Pac-10 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

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

Tournament Preview

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

Final Standings:

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

Superlatives:

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

All Pac-10 First Team:

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

All Pac-10 Second Team:

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

Every year teams come out of nowhere and burst into the top 25, while sports writers run to their keyboards to type the requisite “Where Did Team X Come From” story. I mean how many people saw Cornell coming last year? Who said last October that Butler would go on to lose the national championship game by just a couple of inches?  Conversely, there are teams that look great on paper in the preseason but fail to live up to the hype once the season starts. Think North Carolina last season. Why did the Tar Heels begin the year in the top 10 again?  Allow us to sort through the mess and pull out this year’s Cornells and North Carolinas for you. Missouri fans, get ready to be excited. West Virginia fans, start thinking of things to say in your hate mail.

On Monday we took a look at four teams that will be up this season.  Today we’ll examine four teams that will be down as compared to where they were last year.

#1) West Virginia

There's a Lot of Pressure on Kevin Jones to Produce This Year

No Devin Ebanks. No Da’Sean Butler. All kinds of problems for the Mountaineers, who are the only team from last year’s Final Four to begin the season outside of the AP top 25. Bob Huggins’ squad lost a lot of what made last year’s team so tough to handle with the depatures of Ebanks and Butler. The 2009-10 Mountaineers got by on their ability to suffocate opponents with their brutally physical play combined with Butler’s brilliance on the offensive end. Now much of the responsibility falls to forward Kevin Jones, who averaged 13.5 points per game as West Virginia’s third option. Can Jones step up his game this year when defenses single him out as the guy they have to stop? If Jones struggles, then the Mountaineers will have a hard time duplicating even some of the success they enjoyed last year.

Reports coming from preseason practices aren’t too encouraging. Huggins recently told the Charleston Gazette that freshmen Kevin Noreen and Noah Cottrill “look lost” at practice. And that was after Cottrill sparked rumors when he was introduced but didn’t participate in West Virginia’s Midnight Madness. There also was the case of Casey Mitchell, who was suspended for a violation of team rules but is now back with the team. These aren’t the kinds of stories that equate to success in the regular season. This year might be one to forget in Morgantown.

#2) Cornell

Such is the Life of a Mid-Major -- Seasons Like Last Year Come Around Once in Generation

The Big Red was the last year’s feel good story, upsetting Temple and Wisconsin en route to an unprecedented run to the Sweet 16. And what was the reward for America’s favorite brainiacs turned basketball stars? A return to obscurity.

Cornell lost its X&Os wizard in Steve Donahue when he opted for the greener pastures of the ACC, taking the head coaching gig at Boston College. The Big Red lost all-time leading scorer and 2010 Ivy League Player of the Year (Ryan Wittman), the sparkplug and catalyst of its NCAA Tournament run (Louis Dale) and six other seniors from last year’s squad.  That would be a lot of attrition for even a team like Duke to endure, and there’s no doubt Cornell and new coach Bill Courtney are headed for a big step backward this season.

The Big Red was predicted to finish third in the Ivy League, which would require a number of players to step up fill the voids left by the likes of Wittman and Dale. Cornell needs big seasons from proven players like point guard Chris Wroblewski and forwards Adam Wire and Mark Coury. Then the Big Red will need some of its unknown pieces (one if its four freshman or maybe junior transfer Anthony Gatlin) to emerge if Courtney & Co. hope to compete for a fourth straight league title.

#3) Purdue

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Second Round Game Analysis: Sunday Games

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 16 of the second round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Sunday games.

12:10 pm – #1 Syracuse vs. #8 Gonzaga  (Buffalo pod)

In the CBS national game to start the day, everyone will get this very enticing game between Syracuse and Gonzaga.  Given the way this year is winding up, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Orange without their big man Arinze Onuaku found itself on the short end of the score around 2:30 pm today.  But we still have faith in Syracuse even without the talented center and we think that Jim Boeheim’s team is too good to fall short of the Final Four this early.  The primary problem that the Zags are going to have is one they didn’t have to worry as much about with Florida State, and that is in stopping the powerful SU offense.  With offensive scoring threats at all five positions, Syracuse is in a far more advantageous position than FSU was (with their limited offense) when Gonzaga caught fire on Friday — if the Zags want to get into a shootout with Syracuse, that’s not likely to end well for them. Still, with the way the Big East has had so many early round troubles, and the WCC looking great with St. Mary’s already in the Sweet Sixteen, we’re not ready to dismiss the Zags based on that alone.  The Syracuse zone is likely to be something that Mark Few’s team has not seen with such athletes all season, so even with their ability to put the ball in the hole, we hesitate to think the Zags can consistently score on it.

The Skinny: Gonzaga will push the Orange, but we still like this team to advance and make a serious push for the national title in coming weeks.

2:20 pm – #2 Ohio State vs. #10 Georgia Tech  (Milwaukee pod)

You might not see it on their faces, but the Buckeyes are smiling.  Northern Iowa’s removal of Kansas puts Ohio State in the driver’s seat in the Midwest region.  That said, there’s still no way Thad Matta and Evan Turner are going to let the rest of that team look past their opponents and assume an open road to Indianapolis.  Good thing, because Georgia Tech showed us that they’re not just made up of Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal and a bunch of suckers.  The Yellow Jackets shot 2-10 from the three point line but balanced that by holding Big 12 player of the year James Anderson to a 3-12 shooting night, 0-6 from beyond the three-point arc, and an overall 11 points.  But the most impressive aspect of Georgia Tech’s performance on Friday night — by FAR — was the fact that they went to the free throw line 25 times — and hit 24 of them!  It wasn’t just Lawal and Favors.  Tech played nine players, and eight of them shot at least one free throw.  Evan Turner isn’t just the player of the year in his conference, though — he’s likely the national POY, so the Tech task is that much tougher.  Turner wasn’t himself in their first round game against UCSB, going 2-13 and posting only nine points (though he did contribute 10 boards and five assists).  He’s looking to break out, and knows he’ll have to be at his best.  Lawal and Favors, though, will be looking to get Dallas Lauderdale, Jon Diebler, and Turner in foul trouble early and open poke some holes in that OSU front line.

The Skinny:  You probably don’t want to go with our Midwest picks, since yesterday we took Kansas and Ohio.  It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that this will be a great second round game, but that stat line of Turner’s shows you that he can play such an important role on the team even when he’s not scoring.  For Tech to win, they’d have to turn in a similar performance at the free throw line, keep Turner under wraps and coax him into a supporting role again, and cool down Jon Diebler.  That’s a tough trifecta to pull off.  We don’t see it happening.  But we didn’t see Northern Iowa dismissing Kansas, either.

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First Round Game Analysis: Friday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Friday evening games.

7:10 pm – #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State  (Buffalo pod)

This is a very tough game to call, so let’s start with what we know about it.  The Zags, no stranger to cross-country travel, come into Buffalo after an 11-day layoff where St. Mary’s took Mark Few’s team behind the woodshed and beat them handily in the WCC Tournament championship.  Florida State comes in having dropped its quarterfinal game against NC State in an effort that had their fans shaking their heads in disgust.  So needless to say, both teams are looking for a fresh start here.  The Zags are always dangerous, and this year’s squad led by Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris has the offensive firepower to score with just about anyone in America.  Merely an ok three-point shooting team, they tend to rely on the drives of Harris and mid-range game of Bouldin to create offense.  However, they don’t tend to respond well to teams that crowd and push them around, but unfortunately, FSU is just such a team.  The Seminoles enjoy the nation’s top defensive efficiency, and while they have the opposite problem of finding points, they should have no problem putting the clamps down on the Zag scoring options.  The question here comes down to whether the FSU defense, anchored by 7’1 Solomon Alabi and 6’9 Chris Singleton’s combined four blocks per game, is better than the Gonzaga offense, and we think that it is.  And as up/down as the Seminoles were in the ACC, they never came close to losing to the likes of Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, as Gonzaga did this year.

The Skinny:  The Zags this year aren’t quite as good as they usually are, and they’re facing a team that will shut down their biggest strength.  FSU wins this one by eight points to get a date with Syracuse.

7:15 pm – #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech  (Milwaukee pod)

Here’s another one that’s got people confused.  For good reason, too.  All year long we’ve been waiting on Georgia Tech to do something with all that talent, and now they’re playing better basketball, just in time.  Oklahoma State’s showing against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament will cost them some support, but we’re going to excuse that performance.  That was a tired basketball team, playing their third game in a six day span with K-State at the end of it — and the Wildcats were coming off of a five-day rest.  Georgia Tech is going to go inside to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal like crazy, but when the Yellow Jackets actually shoot the three, they shoot it well.  Defending the three is a glaring OSU weakness, so it will be interesting to see how often Georgia Tech eschews their big men in favor of launching it from the arc, because those shots will be there.  So…good outside shooting, great inside players…sounds pretty good for Tech, right?  The question will be whether or not they can get to that point in their offense.  Georgia Tech ranks in the bottom twenty of Division I teams in terms of turning the ball over.  Can the Jackets, then, find a way to keep James Anderson from shredding them or Keiton Page from raining threes?

The Skinny: Oklahoma State won’t have to exert too much energy guarding the three, since Tech’s propensity to turn the ball over will take care of some of that.  The Cowboys have been getting more and more help from their role players, and we feel 9-7 in the Big 12 is better than 7-9 in the ACC this year.  It’ll be a great first round game, but we like Oklahoma State in a close one.

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Pac-10 Tourney Daily Diary: Finals

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. One of our RTC correspondents is at the Pac-10 Tournament.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, he will post a nightly diary with his thoughts on each day’s action. Here is his submission for the championship game.

Washington 79, California 75

  • Right before the game started, the Washington band got the fans going with a stirring rendition of the NCAA/CBS lead-in song…  was that prescient or just lucky?  I heard eight different pep bands this weekend, though, and none of the other ones did that song, so maybe they were on to something.
  • This was my first experience at the Pac-10 Tournament, but as someone who has been to the ACC and SEC Tournaments before, I leave completely underwhelmed with the fan support.  The Staples Center does a great job with their facilities and Los Angeles in general is an enticing destination (although not so much the downtown core), but where are all the fans?  I can’t believe that there aren’t more than a couple thousand Washington and Cal fans in the SoCal metro area who can’t be bothered to buy a ticket for an afternoon of exciting basketball that may result in your team making the NCAA Tournament.  I’m willing to give this year a slight pass because of the poor quality of the teams in this league, but I seriously question whether it was all that different in 2008, for example, when there were six or seven really good teams in the conference.  This article written prior to the Tournament touches on some of the problems I too noticed with the choice of venue (downtown LA, not the Staples Center).
  • I noticed about a half-hour before the game that Lorenzo Romar was standing alone in the tunnel area seemingly enjoying the quiet for a few moments.  He was looking out onto the court, but it was clear that his mind was working to take in the moment.  Coaches have a stressful job, and it was an interesting insight into how this particular one deals with the pressure.
  • In the first half, Washington held Cal to 37% shooting and Jerome Randle to 4 pts.  In the second half, it was 48% and 8 pts.  Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin were phenomenal (17-26 for 45 points), but the Cal starting backcourt was completely flummoxed today.  Randle and Patrick Christopher combined for 6-22 shooting and 2-11 from behind the arc for a total of 23 points.  The game really comes down to that.  As Mike Montgomery said after the game, they didn’t hit shots they normally hit.  When Cal has that kind of a night against a good team, they lose.
  • Washington seemed more aggressive most of the day, as if they realized they were in a little more trouble with the Selection Committee.  Quincy Pondexter (18 pts) and Isaiah Thomas (16 pts) both played under control and utilized good shot selection.  It showed, as the Huskies hit 53% for the game and 94% from the line.  I’m not predicting great things for this team as a #12 or #13 seed next week, but if they catch a break and play a relatively unathletic team that isn’t a gifted scoring team as well, they’ll have a chance to pull the upset.
  • In the postgame presser with Mike Montgomery, I referred to Seth Davis’ comment that Cal is one of the more interesting bubble teams in some time, having won the regular season Pac-10 title with ease yet not having a single top-50 win all season long.  Monty visibly bristled at the suggestion that Cal is even being talked about on the bubble.  The word he used was that he would be “astounded” if Cal doesn’t make the NCAAs, and that people (Seth?  me?) need to “do their homework” with respect to evaluating their losses with key players out of the lineup earlier in the year.  He clearly thinks (as many Pac-10 folks do) that if you win the conference regular season title, that should be enough.
  • The All-Tourney team actually had three Bears on it versus two for Washington.  Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin made it, while Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas (the MVP) were the two for UW.  Michael Roll from UCLA was the other player voted on.  Maybe it’s like this everywhere, but they took our sheets with two minutes remaining… what if Cal’s Randle produced a 15-point explosion in overtime?  Seems like a bad way to handle that in a close game.
  • So that’ll close out our trip to the Pac-10 Tournament.  The championship tilt was the best game of the tournament (well, the play-in game was good too, but it was the play-in game so I don’t count it), and it probably ended up as a best-case for the league in that two teams will go dancing.  The hope here is that the league improves the next couple of years so that the fans start coming back to this event and the quality of play will also end up better.
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RTC Live: Pac-10 Championship – California vs. Washington

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

Welcome back to the Staples Center for what should be the best matchup of the weekend in the 2010 Pac-10 Tournament this afternoon.  Both California and Washington have looked relaxed and confident in their two games leading up to this point, and why wouldn’t they be — they have the two best teams in the league and the two best players as well in Jerome Randle and Quincy Pondexter.  The two teams played twice this year, each winning comfortably on their home floor, so it stands to reason that a neutral environment such as this would produce an evenly matched contest.  At least that’s the hope.  As for NCAA Tournament implications, Washington might be feeling a little squeezed especially in light of Houston’s upset victory in Conference USA earlier this afternoon.  The Huskies have 23 wins including a solid victory over Texas A&M in the nonconference slate, but both Zach Hayes and Joe Lunardi have the Huskies on the edge.  A blowout loss today could be enough justification in the Committee’s minds to keep them out.  Cal, on the other hand, is safe, but the Bears would certainly like to move into top-8 seed territory if they can.  A win today might get them there.  It should be a great afternoon here in downtown Los Angeles this afternoon — feel free to stop by.

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Pac-10 Tourney Daily Diary: Semifinals

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. One of our RTC correspondents is at the Pac-10 Tournament.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, he will post a nightly diary with his thoughts on each day’s action. Here is his submission for the semifinal games.

Washington 79, Stanford 64

  • It’s not difficult to see why Washington (along with Cal) was picked at the top of the Pac-10 this season.  There’s a lot of bounce in those legs.  Basketball is such an athletic sport, it’s easy to be enticed when you see a team like UW sailing around the arena like they are on pogo sticks.  But it’s a game that also requires strategic use of your resources, and wanton jumping around won’t get you very far against teams that understand the game better than you do.
  • I referred to this above, but the athleticism that Washington has is among the top fifteen or twenty we’ve seen this year.  Lorenzo Romar definitely tries to recruit a certain type of player for his system, which makes their defensive shortcomings all the more frustrating.  They’ll turn you over, but they just don’t guard people in the halfcourt like they could or should given the athletes at their disposal.  Supposing they committed to defense, they’d be a top ten team and the bubble would be left to other teams to worry about.
  • Lorenzo Romar was asked about the bubble situation after the game and he said that he doesn’t worry about it much but that he definitely wants to take the decision out of the NCAA Selection Committee’s hands.  Personally, I think they’ve done enough at this point, and both Zach Hayes and Lunardi agree.
  • I know the Stanford band is supposed to be quirky and weird and that’s the point of it all — total irreverence as opposed to what Cal does.  But man, it’s almost like they had to have tryouts to find the weirdest-looking bunch they could find over there.  The tree, however, is, and remains awesome.  Love the tree.

Love the Tree

  • Highlight of the night was UW forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning tomahawking a dunk in the second half over Drew Shiller.  Check it out…

  • Talk about deja vu.  That dunk was remarkably similar to one that MBA threw on Shiller earlier this year.  Hey Shiller, stop trying to take charges under the rim, fella!  This isn’t Duke.

California 85, UCLA 72

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Pac-10 Tourney Daily Diary – Quarterfinals

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. One of our RTC correspondents is at the Pac-10 Tournament.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, he will post a nightly diary with his thoughts on each day’s action. Here is his submission for the quarterfinal games.

UCLA 75, Arizona 69

  • I know that this is a horrific year for the Pac-10, but in terms of the historic caliber of these two programs and the fact that one of them is literally 10.1 miles away from this gym, it’s more than a little disappointing that the lower bowl of the Staples Center wasn’t even filled at tipoff.  Seriously, any of the top eight teams has a shot at winning this event, and with it, the auto-bid.  Bruins and Cats fans need to step up a little more.
  • I’ve seen UCLA play live a handful of times this season, and I continue to be amazed at how unathletic this team is.  How did that happen so quickly to a team that could boast top-drawer athleticism in the form of Arron Afflalo, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, etc.?
  • Cool shirt of the day in the Arizona section…  “The Streak Matters…” referencing UA’s 25-year streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances that is in dire jeopardy short of a Pac-10 championship this weekend.  The guys say that they meet up from all over the country every year to watch the Pac-10 Tournament and have a blast together.  The shirts are to make sure that head coach Sean Miller understands that it’s not a ‘new day’ just because he’s in Tucson now — apparently Miller had made some quotes near the start of the season that they found dismissive of their illustrious history.  Interesting take from the Arizona fans there.

Arizona Fans Will Need to Start a New Streak

  • I continue to have a decent-sized mancrush on freshman forward Derrick Williams for Arizona.  16/7 per game on 59% shooting; he’s rarely out of position, takes care of the ball, draws fouls like a mofo, and has tremendous hands.  He could be one of their all-timers if he sticks around for 3-4 years.
  • Nic Wise tweeted after the Arizona loss today…  in a word: disappointment.  That about sums it up for a senior losing in a tournament setting.

California 90, Oregon 74

  • Jerome Randle is a really fun player to watch play this game.  His bomb from 25 feet followed by a steal and a nifty reverse layup off the ball-around-the-back move was spectacular and happened directly in front of me.  I’ve seen a lot of really good guards play this year, but few have the ability to regularly catch fire from all over the court like he does.  Nice kid, too.
  • It’s the Randle show in the first half here at the Staples Center. with 6:30 left, he already has 20 points, which puts him on a pace for a 70-pt afternoon.  I don’t think I’ve seen a single shot of his touch the rim yet today.  Backcourt mate Patrick Christopher has at least hit rim a little bit, but he’s also blowing up to a certain extent — 14 in the first half on 4-5 threes.  When these two guys are on their game from outside, few teams in America can score with them.  The problem is that good defenses can neutralize one or both of them for parts of the game.  When that happens, the Bears are in trouble.
  • The question I’ve had all year when watching Cal play is how far can a team that relies so abundantly on four perimeter-style players go into the postseason?  It can be done, but it’s not easy.  Villanova has proven that a four-guard set can work pretty well so long as your guards are willing to be tough inside and not give up anything easy.  But what about Cal?  I don’t find their perimeter attack nearly as strong as those Nova teams, nor do they defend anywhere near as well.  Still, it’ll depend on the matchup, but I don’t think they can win more than one NCAA Tournament game, if that.  They would need to play a team that mirrors themselves in terms of perimeter play; otherwise I think they’re likely one-and-done.

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Pac-10 Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.

Final Standings

  1. California    (13-5, 21-9)
  2. Arizona State    (12-6, 22-9)
  3. Washington    (11-7, 21-9)
  4. Arizona     (10-8, 16-14)
  5. USC     (8-10, 16-14)
  6. Oregon State     (8-10, 14-16)
  7. UCLA     (8-10, 13-17)
  8. Stanford    (7-11, 13-17)
  9. Oregon      ( 7-11,  15-15)
  10. Washington State     (6-12, 16-14)

Conference Awards

  • Player of the Year: Quincy Pondexter, Sr, Washington. Pondexter won the Pac-10 Player of the Week award a record five times this season while averaging 20 points and eight rebounds a game (second and third in the conference, respectively) for the third place Huskies.
  • Coach of the Year: Herb Sendek, Arizona State. After losing two starters from last year’s team to the NBA, the Sun Devils were expected to take a big step back in the conference. Instead, Sendek kept his team in the race for the regular season title until the last weekend and put his squad in position to possibly earn an NCAA tournament bid.
  • Freshman of the Year: Derrick Williams, Arizona. The freshman from La Mirada High School in Southern California averaged 15.7 point and seven rebounds per game for the Wildcats and connected on 58.8% of his field goal attempts to help coach Sean Miller post a winning record in his first year in Tucson.
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Seth Tarver, Oregon State. Tarver led the Pac-10 with 2.3 steals per game and led his Beaver squad in rebounding, all while manning the point in coach Craig Robinson’s zone defense.

All Pac-10 First Team

  • G Jerome Randle, Sr, California
  • G Nic Wise, Sr, Arizona
  • F Quincy Pondexter, Sr, Washington
  • F Landry Fields, Sr, Stanford
  • F Derrick Williams, Fr, Arizona

All Pac-10 Second Team

  • G Isaiah Thomas, So, Washington
  • G Patrick Christopher, Sr, California
  • G Ty Abbott, Jr, Arizona State
  • G Klay Thompson, So, Washington State
  • F Nikola Vucevic, So, USC

All Pac-10 Freshman Team

  • G Reggie Moore, Washington State
  • G Trent Lockett, Arizona State
  • F Derrick Williams, Arizona
  • F Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA
  • F Reeves Nelson, UCLA

Pac-10 Tournament Preview

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Morning Five: 03.09.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 9th, 2010

  1. The rush of conference awards are rolling in…  here are some conference POYs that were announced on Monday: James Anderson, Oklahoma State (Big 12); Jerome Randle, California (Pac-10); Evan Turner, Ohio State (Big 10); Darington Hobson, New Mexico (Mtn West); Kevin Anderson, Richmond (A10).  As for conference COY: Matt Painter, Purdue (Big Ten); Steve Alford, New Mexico (Mtn West); Herb Sendek, Arizona State (Pac-10), Frank Martin, Kansas State (Big 12), Fran Dunphy, Temple (A10).  The ACC, Big East and SEC are expected to announce their choices on Tuesday.
  2. At the national level, The Sporting News has selected Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim as its national COY, and has listed their all-americans.  Their first team has five guards on it — John Wall, Kentucky (also FrOY); Greivis Vasquez, Maryland; Evan Turner, Ohio State; Scottie Reynolds, Villanova; James Anderson, Oklahoma State.  Of course, we think that’s cheating, and RTC will have its position-specific AA team later this week.  Watch for it.
  3. Next year’s Coaches vs. Cancer Classic will feature Pittsburgh, Maryland, Texas and Illinois as the four regional hosts who are slotted into the semifinals at Madison Square Garden the week before Thanksgiving.  This could be a very interesting and talented field if the majority of underclassmen on these teams decide to stick around, as they should.  Maryland and Texas lose some key pieces in Vasquez, Milbourne, James and Pittman, respectively, but there are a bunch of really good underclassmen on all of these teams.
  4. Talk about really early entry.  Seattle University’s Charles Garcia is wasting absolutely no time in declaring his intention to go pro this spring.  Seattle is an Independent, so their season is now over unless the Redhawks are invited to one of the lower postseason tournaments such as the CBI or CIT.  What is most notable about Garcia aside from his 19/8 scoring/rebounding average is his ability to draw fouls from the defense.  Garcia picks up an astonishing 10.6 fouls per game on his defenders, which as you may imagine, puts the 6’9 forward at the line nearly ten times per game.
  5. As always, here’s some great analytical work from Vegas Watch, who takes an alternative (and much more defensible) approach to seeding the field of 65.  Keep fighting the good fight, VW, with logic, reason and most importantly, data.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

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

Standings

  1. California    (12-5, 20-9)
  2. Arizona State     (10-6, 20-9)
  3. Washington     (9-7, 19-9)
  4. USC     (8-8, 16-12)
  5. Arizona      (8-8, 14-14)
  6. UCLA     (8-8, 13-15)
  7. Oregon State    (7-9, 13-15)
  8. Stanford    (7-10, 13-16)
  9. Washington State    (6-10, 16-12)
  10. Oregon     (6-10, 14-14)

It may not have been the type of season that Cal head coach Mike Montgomery envisioned at the start of the year when his Golden Bears and their five returning starters were ranked in the top 15, but as the calendar page gets flipped to the only month that really matters in college basketball, his team has just finished clinching at least a part of the Pac-10 regular season title and the top seed in next week’s Pac-10 Tournament. What could be very interesting for the Bears, however, is a scenario that Montgomery has no interest in seeing happen: the Bears failing to win the Pac-10 Tournament and its automatic bid, leaving Cal — a team with an RPI in the 20s but no wins against top-50 RPI teams -– squarely on the bubble for NCAA at-large consideration.

Team Rundowns

  • California – The Bears wrapped up their portion of the Pac-10 title by sweeping the Arizona schools behind strong play from their seniors. Over the course of the weekend, the five Bear seniors (Jamal Boykin, Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Nikola Knezevic) combined for 129 of the 157 Cal points. Boykin led the way and took home Pac-10 player-of-the-week honors behind averages of 17 points and 8.5 rebounds. Cal still needs either a win at Stanford or a loss by Arizona State in one of their games against the Southern California schools to wrap up sole possession of the regular season crown.
  • Arizona State – The Sun Devils hung around for a half at Haas Pavilion on Saturday, but ice-cold second half shooting (just 7-26 from the field) and a complete inability to hit from range throughout the game (only 3-22 from behind the arc) doomed ASU. Only senior Jerren Shipp was able to get off against the Bears, hitting six of his nine shots (including two threes) for 14 points. Senior center Eric Boateng tied a Pac-10 record by hitting all 11 of his field goal attempts (on his way to 24 points) in their win over Stanford on Thursday. The Devils still have the inside track on the number two seed in the Pac-10 tournament, with a one-game lead over Washington.
  • Washington – The Huskies completed a season-sweep over intrastate rival Washington State on Saturday by getting out to a big first half lead (they led 35-21 at the half) and then fighting off a charging Cougar squad for a seven-point win. Sophomore point guard Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 22 points and junior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning continued his recent tear by adding 17 points and 12 rebounds. Bryan-Amaning has now averaged 13/7 over the past six weeks. Washington will head to the Oregon schools to wrap up their regular season, needing to win both games and get some help out of the Southern California schools in order to take over second place.
  • USC – Coming into the week, the Trojans still had an outside shot at winning the regular season Pac-10 title. Those hopes died Thursday night when they scored 12 points in the second half (6/25 FGs, 0/13 3s in the second half) against Oregon. The Trojans followed that up with a similar performance against Oregon State on Saturday, shooting just 25% from the field in the second half (and 29% for the game). Coach Kevin O’Neill will lose senior starters Mike Gerrity, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson off a team that has leaned heavily on its starting five, assuring that things will look different around the Galen Center next season.
  • Arizona – The Wildcats split their trip to the Bay Area this weekend, stealing a game from Stanford on Saturday on a 15-foot bank at the buzzer by freshman guard Lamont “Momo” Jones. Jones had a career high 16 points for the ‘Cats and fellow freshman Derrick Williams added 24 points to push Sean Miller’s club into a three-way tie in the middle of the conference. While senior point guard Nic Wise will be wrapping up his college career this weekend, the Wildcats boast a young team (five freshmen get playing time) that will likely be considered one of the early favorites in the Pac-10 next season.

  • UCLA – Senior day summed up the UCLA season pretty well. Before the game started, senior forward Nikola Dragovic, a couple of days after having his shoulder pop out against Oregon State, tripped over a basketball during warm-ups and sprained his ankle. And then, after battling back from a 10-point halftime deficit to tie the game late, sophomore point guard Jerime Anderson had two bad turnovers in the last minute and the Bruins sank back to .500 in the conference. Senior Michael Roll did go out in style, knocking down six three-pointers on his way to 25 points in his last regular season appearance in Pauley Pavilion.
  • Oregon State – The Beavers shot just 4-31 from 3-pt range this week, hit only 37% from the field, turned the ball over 30 times, and still got a split in Southern California when they forced 20 USC turnovers and held the Trojans to 29% shooting on Saturday. Senior guard Seth Tarver led the Beavs with 15 points in a game that was ugly enough to deserve special mention in a season of ugliness in the Pac-10. Oregon State still has a chance to finish the Pac-10 season at .500 with wins over the Arizona schools in the final weekend of the season.
  • Stanford – Despite senior Landry Fields’ strong last weekend in Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal dropped both games this week and are destined for a lower-division Pac-10 finish. Fields averaged 21.5 points and seven rebounds this week, but against the Sun Devils on Thursday he received very little help. Sophomore guards Jeremy Green and Jarrett Mann combined to score just six points on 2-15 shooting (and, to be fair to Mann, he only accounted for one of those field goal attempts – a miss). They both bounced back against Arizona on Saturday, going for 19 and 13 respectively, but the Cardinal lost a heart-breaker on a shot at the buzzer.
  • Washington State – The Cougars stumbled out of the gate on Saturday and by halftime were down 14 on Senior Night in Beasley Coliseum. But sophomore forward DeAngelo Casto led the Cougars on a second half run to get back in the game and even take their first lead of the game in the middle of the second half. However, the Cougars were unable to contain the Huskies’ Thomas late and the Cougs faded down the stretch. Casto wound up with 19/6, but the Cougs’ leading scorer, sophomore Klay Thompson, struggled all day, missing 12 of his 14 field goal attempts and turning the ball over five times. The Cougars will close the season with a road trip to Oregon.
  • Oregon – The Ducks went on the road to Southern California and swept UCLA and USC, breaking a five-game losing streak in a big way, and now have put themselves in position to climb out of the cellar with a strong closing weekend of the season, as the Ducks host the Washington schools while saying goodbye to senior Tajuan Porter as well as MacArthur Court. Porter averaged 22.5 ppg in the LA sweep and threw in seven threes in the win over the Bruins, leaving him just eight threes behind former Arizona star Salim Stoudamire for the all-time Pac-10 mark.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on February 24th, 2010

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

Standings

  1. California    10-5       18-9
  2. Arizona State     9-5          19-8
  3. USC     8-6          16-10
  4. Washington     8-7          18-9
  5. Arizona      7-7          13-13
  6. UCLA      7-7          12-14
  7. Stanford      7-8          13-14
  8. Oregon State      6-8          12-14
  9. Washington State     6-9          16-11
  10. Oregon       4-10       12-14

We haven’t had a Pac-10 update ‘round these parts since the conference season began, but it is no secret that the one-word summation of the Pac-10 season to this point is “ugly.”  The only team with anything at all to say about potentially receiving an at-large bid is California, and it is increasingly likely that if Cal fails to win the Pac-10 tournament, they’ll be looking at an NIT bid. For the first time in as far back as I care to research, the only Pac-10 team that will be heading to the NCAA tournament is the team that wins the automatic bid as the Pac-10 tournament champion.

A quick rundown of the teams:

California – The Bears currently top the conference, and of all Pac-10 teams have the best chance at an at-large bid given their RPI in the low 20s and the fourth toughest schedule in the country, but every time it looks like this team is going to  reel off a string of victories, they drop a game like they did Thursday when eighth place Oregon State handled them easily in Corvalis, 80-64. The numbers look good for the senior quartet of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin (60.2 ppg between the four, with all averaging double-figures on the season), but each has been inconsistent this season, such as when Randle went just 2-9 from the field, 0-5 from behind the arc and had four turnovers in the OSU game.

Arizona StateHerb Sendek’s squad sits just a half-game back of the Bears in the conference standings, a bit of business that will get sorted out on Saturday when they head to Haas Pavilion, but although they have a top-50 win (something Cal cannot boast) over San Diego State, there just isn’t enough there on the ASU resume to really warrant serious at-large consideration. The Sun Devils have gotten as far as they have on the strength of their guard play; senior point Derek Glasser leads the conference in assists, and he and junior point Jamelle McMillan are one-two in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.

USC – The Trojans are a team that would be a very tough out in the Pac-10 tournament – that is if the Trojans were going to play in the Pac-10 tournament. In an attempt to throw the NCAA hounds off the trail a bit and to make some sort of restitution for the O.J. Mayo, Reggie Bush and how many other incidents, the USC athletic department decided to self-punish the basketball program, stripping them of their chance to play in the postseason this year. Head coach Kevin O’Neill has done a pretty strong job of keeping his kids together and when the Trojans have come out focused they have been very strong this year (they’ve split with Cal, taken their one matchup with ASU, and swept Washington and UCLA), but playing out the string has got to be hard for these kids and as a result, they’ve lost games to Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State, that they might not have lost had a possible NCAA tourney bid been waiting at the end.

Washington – In a season of conference-wide disappointment, the Huskies have got to take home the title of most disappointing Pac-10 team. At the start of the year, Washington was considered something of a co-favorite to win the conference, and seemed to be a team that could make some noise in March. But between then and now, the Huskies have struggled to gain any consistency. They did pull together a four-game win streak in late January/early February, then laid an egg in their big matchup at Cal. Senior forward Quincy Pondexter has likely been the player-of-the-year in the conference (20.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg), but highly-anticipated freshman guard Abdul Gaddy has yet to catch on, and the team has struggled mightily on the road, notching just a 1-6 record so far.

Arizona – At some point in April, right after Sean Miller had accepted the Arizona job, his roster consisted of little more than senior point Nic Wise, junior wing Jamelle Horne, a couple other returning pieces and a boatload of question marks. Miller took advantage of the meltdown at USC and grabbed some of their fleeing castoffs and wound up patching together a pretty strong recruiting class, and actually had this Wildcat team tied for the conference lead not too long ago. Freshman forward Derrick Williams has been the best of the new Cats (15.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and while there are growing pains in the future, especially with Wise getting fitted for cap and gown, folks around Tucson are pretty confident that Miller will be able to get this program back to the heights they are used to.

UCLA – The incongruous facts that the Bruins are 7-7 in conference and two games under .500 on the season and that Ben Howland has done a pretty strong job getting his team that far is a good indication of how bad this Bruin team is. As sophomore Jerime Anderson’s inability to handle the point guard position became apparent, Howland slid another sophomore, Malcolm Lee, over from the two to play out of position. While Lee is still not particularly well suited to the one, he is a definite improvement there. Likewise, as this group as a whole showed that they were incapable of playing the type of man defense that Howland demands, he switched over to run some zone. Still not a great defensive team, but an improvement. Those types of things sum up this season for UCLA. While you still can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, Howland has at least managed to scrape this Bruin squad together to the point where they aren’t consistently getting embarrassed.

Stanford – Senior swingman Landry Fields and sophomore guard Jeremy Green have turned into quite a duo up on the farm. They are the highest scoring duo in the Pac-10 (nearly 40 points a game), and Fields is a serious conference Player of the Year candidate. Sophomore Jarrett Mann has also turned into a nice point guard, and between he and Green, head coach Johnny Dawkins doesn’t have a whole lot of question marks in the backcourt for next season. The problem for the Cardinal has been the interior game. They are one of the worst rebounding teams (and that despite Fields’ second-best in the Pac-10 8.7 rpg) and are the worst shotblocking team in the Pac-10, with only 45 blocks on the season. Dawkins does have some help coming, however, with four forwards already signed in next year’s recruiting class.

Oregon State – In Craig Robinson’s first season, the Beavers took a major step forward. Certainly another seven-win improvement this season would have been more than anyone could have hoped for, but given the return of much of their roster and the decrease in the overall talent level in the Pac-10, expectations had to be higher than a mere repeat of last season for the Beavers. And yet, that’s where they’re at now. At this point in 2008-09, the Beavers were 12-13 and 6-8 in the conference. The only difference this year is one additional non-conference loss. Junior guard Calvin Haynes is the OSU leading scorer with 13.2 ppg this year; last year he averaged 13.0. Senior center Roeland Schaftenaar’s point totals have dropped slightly, while senior swingman Seth Tarver’s are up slightly. In all, it is looking like a huge uptick from Robinson season one to season two followed by a season worth of reruns.

Washington State – Not a lot of fun being a Washington-state sports fan these days. The Sonics are something called a Thunder these days and they play in tornado country somewhere, the Seahawks are at the bottom of the barrel, college football is just about non-existent and their college basketball programs, which were at one point a combined 20-3 this season, have now combined to go 14-17 since then. For the Cougs, sophomore wing Klay Thompson’s production has taken a bit of a dive in conference play (he just scored 10 combined points in a homestand against the Southern California schools), although he is still averaging almost 21 ppg this season. But with freshman point Reggie Moore and sophomore bruiser DeAngelo Casto to pair up with Thompson, head coach Ken Bone has a young nucleus around which to build.

Oregon – There are two more Pac-10 conference games that will be played at McArthur Court. While some of Oregon’s early-season non-conference games will be played there next season, the Ducks homestand against the Washington schools the final week of the Pac-10 season will close the books on the meaningful games played in that phenomenal building. Some sparkling, brand new beauty of an abomination will “replace” it, but the best atmosphere in the Pac-10 is going away. That’s what I’ll remember from this Duck season. Beyond that, head coach Ernie Kent totters toward a termination, the roster is full of guys with talent who aren’t able to string it together for more than a weekend or two, and Tajuan Porter just missed another wild three. But none of it matters. They’re closing Mac Court.

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