A Three-Pac of Teams in the Sweet Sixteen Party

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 25th, 2015

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Four of our friends were invited to this party last weekend along with a bunch of other people. It’s been a crazy, crazy time. If I told you about everything that went down, it would probably burn off both your ears. We’ve got some stories we’ll tell the next time this group gets together, but for now, three of our crowd are still going strong. And the way things are going, there’s a chance at least one of this cast of characters closes this party down. Before we get to those party animals, let’s pay tribute to the one we lost along the way.

Oregon Is The Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early (USA Today)

Oregon is the Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early. (USA Today)

Oregon came into the year a complete mess. The offseason was literally scandalous. There was a whole new group of players to meet. Expectations were low. The whole thing could have gone off the rails at any time. Instead, chalk up a Pac-12 Player of the Year award, a Pac-12 Coach of the Year award, a second-place conference finish, an NCAA Tournament win and another chance to throw one hell of a scare into Wisconsin before fading late. By any reasonable measure, this season in Eugene will go down as a resounding success. Joseph Young’s trailblazing two years came to an end, but a fine young group of talented players remain in his stead. And frankly, a changing of the guard could be the breath of fresh air the program needs. Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks will headline a group of talented sophomores, while Snoop Dogg Dwayne Benjamin will be the scrappy play-making veteran he established himself as this year. As long as Dana Altman returns along the sideline (which, given that previous scandal, is not exactly a 100 percent sure thing), there’s no reason to expect anything less than another strong upper-division finish next year from the Ducks. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s evening games.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Region First Round (at Omaha, NE) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the Ducks, it all begins and ends with Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. A deadly shooter, Young is stroking it at 36.1% from three (a career-low), 50.3% from two and 92.6% from the free throw line. He’s adept as a pull-up shooter from deep, a catch-and-shoot guy coming off a screen or on the bounce and on the attack. He’s scored 20 or more 17 different times this season. In other words: stop Young, stop the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t appear to have a ready-made matchup for Young, unless they put 6’6” Le’Bryan Nash – ostensibly a power forward on this team – on him. On the other end of the court, the Ducks can throw a combination of Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks at Nash – the ‘Pokes leading scorer – and feel relatively comfortable, while they’ll let Young, or any of their other fresh guards, chase Phil Forte off screens and try to limit his clean three-point looks. In the end, the Cowboys are more reliant on three-point shooting, while the Ducks can score in all three ranges. Unless Forte and senior Anthony Hickey get super hot from deep, the Ducks should have the edge

The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris – South Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Robert Morris sprung a mild upset in Dayton on Wednesday, knocking off favored North Florida in impressive fashion. To further extend their season, the Colonials will need another unexpected victory, but quite obviously, this upset may be slightly less attainable. Duke has had their share of recent struggles in the Tournament’s second round, but stubbed toes against foes such as Mercer and Lehigh can only offer RMU so much solace. Jahlil Okafor dominated small-conference foes in November and December – the Colonials, like almost every team in America, has no player capable of slowing Duke’s freshman star. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have proven virtually unstoppable as a duo: stopping one is possible, but forcing poor shooting nights from both is rare. The Colonials made only 4-of-16 three-point field goals against North Florida but have shot the three-ball well this season (37.7 percent). Getting hot from long range would be a great way for Andy Toole’s team to begin the task of hanging around in this game. To finish that chore — even if it ends in defeat — Robert Morris will need to pitch a perfect game. This is the life of a #16 seed, and while it’ll be Duke moving on to face the winner of San Diego State-St. John’s, Robert Morris should head home with heads held high, a proud season in the books.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Great Was That Pac-12 Tournament?

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Adam Butler on March 16th, 2015

Another March to Vegas has concluded and now the Pac-12 conference takes its talents to a national stage. But, before we dig deeper into what’s coming in this year’s NCAA Tournament, Adam Butler and Andrew Murawa discuss what went down at the MGM over the weekend with a series of important questions.

Q: Brandon Ashley was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He shot 19-of-26 across three games and clearly deserved the award. After the junior, however, there were some other great performances. Who was your non-Ashley Most Outstanding Player?

At Precisely The Right Moment, Brandon Ashley Is Playing His Best Ball (Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports)

At Precisely The Right Moment, Brandon Ashley Is Playing His Best Ball. (Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports)

Adam Butler: I would like the record to show that I said Brandon Ashley was fantastic. After him, the guy I’d most like to call out is UCLA’s Norman Powell. He scored 35 points on 47 percent shooting. Solid numbers, yes, but I’d most like to highlight his effort against Arizona. As the nation questions UCLA’s qualifications as an NCAA-worthy team, the committee alluded to the Bruins passing the eyeball test. If you had eyeballs on the UCLA-Arizona game, specifically. For large portions of that game he got his and his effort was similar throughout the last month of the year.

Andrew Murawa: The funny thing is that, as well as Brandon Ashley played, I could easily make a case for at least three of his teammates. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a defensive dynamo and T.J. McConnell is above reproach. But Stanley Johnson remains an absolute freak (16.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG). And in the one game over the weekend where the ‘Cats actually had a chance to lose, it was Johnson who stepped into a three-pointer and effectively sealed the game. Sure, at times he gets caught somewhere between over-exuberance and offensive-foul-induced passivity. But when Johnson is making jumpers like he did at the MGM, the Wildcats are darn near impossible to beat. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Championship with All Eyes on Vegas

Posted by Adam Butler on March 14th, 2015

It’s a championship game. One for all the marbles and the last nationally relevant game of the day. All eyes, if they’re not asleep, will be on Vegas. Because at 8:00 PM the Arizona Wildcats will play the Oregon Ducks for the third time this season. We don’t necessarily need a preview. As I noted in yesterdays historical recap of UCLA and Arizona, the scouting reports are out the window. I mean, Isaac Hamilton scored 36 points in a game. How can you prepare for March basketball? Undoubtedly you saw this:

But that’s the best part. It is March basketball and that means – more than any of the months prior – these games mean things. In tonight’s case it could mean a #1 seed for the Wildcats. Duke and Virginia both fell in the ACC semifinals, opening the door for Arizona to earn one of the big dance’s top four billings. It would be the second consecutive #1 seed for the ‘Cats but the important part would be their status in the West. That part they seemed to have locked up already. But think about this: Arizona and Wisconsin could potentially both be 31-3 with outright conference regular season and tournament championships and still be #2 seeds. If you need evidence of this year’s Dance being top heavy, there it is. Furthermore it’s Arizona’s fourth attempt at winning this thing in the last five years. Sean Miller told us to not even bother asking about what that feels like.

For Oregon, the Ducks too are playing for seeding. Now locked into the Dance, could they elevate themselves onto the #5 line? With each win their resume swells but that’s probably not the focus, right? This is a championship game. In noting that Arizona hasn’t won this thing, Dana Altman conversely has. The Ducks will be playing for their second title in three years. Clearly there are things at stake for each of these programs independent of their opponent, but this matchup itself offers intrigue beyond just the exciting hyperbole of March basketball. It’s really got something for everyone.

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Joseph Young Makes a Statement at Pac-12 Tournament

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2015

When it was announced on Monday that Joseph Young had earned the votes of the majority of the Pac-12 coaches and had been named the conference’s Player of the Year, the news was met with surprise around much of the conference. In Salt Lake City and Tucson, it was met with derision. Despite leading the conference in scoring, carrying his inexperienced Oregon club to a surprising second place conference finish, and revising his game to further the goals of the team, Utah and Arizona fans thought that their senior guards – namely, Delon Wright and T.J. McConnell – had stronger claims on that title. They viewed the conference tournament this weekend in Las Vegas as an opportunity to make such statements.

Young made his own statement to the assembled crowd at the MGM Grand Arena on Thursday, scoring 20 of his game-high 30 points in the second half as his Ducks soared past Colorado. Last night, he took that statement nationwide, drilling a 30-foot three-point game-winner as time expired to send the Ducks to the championship game against Arizona. It’s the kind of play that will be shown time and again in future years in Pac-12 Tournament clips, and it is the kind of play that will re-introduce Young to the casual college basketball fans. I’ve already seen it four times on ESPN in the 20 minutes since I’ve gotten back to my hotel room.

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Five Takeaways from Championship Week Friday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 14th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. There were 44 games spread across 18 conference tournaments on Friday — here’s the TL;DR version of what happened.

1. Which ACC Loss Was More Troubling: Duke or Virginia?

The story of Championship Week Friday is a complex one, but it has to open with what transpired in Greensboro last night. Top-seeded Virginia and second-seeded Duke were toppled in the ACC semifinals by North Carolina and Notre Dame, respectively; and both upsets, in their own ways, were startling. First, there’s Virginia, which in a 71-67 loss gave up more points than it had in any other contest in conference play. Despite a late Cavaliers’ charge, the Tar Heels led the game from wire to wire and made Tony Bennett’s team look frighteningly ordinary for about 35 minutes of action. In the nightcap, Notre Dame, a little over a month after being waxed by Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, got its revenge. The Fighting Irish held the high-powered Blue Devils to 0.97 points per possession in a 74-64 win.

Notre Dame All Smiles After Last Night's Big Win (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame All Smiles and Hugs After Last Night’s Big Win (USA Today Images)

So which loss is more worrying? I’d have to say Virginia’s. Duke was outplayed by the Irish but the primary reason the Blue Devils lost was a 3-of-17 shooting mark from beyond the arc. On the other hand, Virginia doesn’t look like the same team it was earlier this year. The Cavaliers have continued to dominate lesser teams on the defensive end, but when they are coming face to face with teams that can match up with them physically, they don’t look nearly as special. Furthermore, Justin Anderson’s return — zero points in 26 minutes over two games — is troubling. Virginia fans should be somewhat worried.

2. Can Iowa State and Oklahoma Play Every Week?

The Cyclones and Sooners played another barnburner in the second Big 12 semifinals Friday night. Both regular season clashes had been instant classics, and while Friday’s meeting was maybe a tad more sensible — as in there were no 20-point comebacks or 59-point halves — it was back and forth all game long. In the end, Iowa State who pulled out a 67-65 victory when Ryan Spangler missed a bunny at the rim that would have tied the game. The Cyclones get a rubber match with Kansas Saturday, which will be another episode of Big 12 must-watch television.

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On Oregon and Expectations…

Posted by Adam Butler on March 12th, 2015

When the Pac-12 announced that the Oregon basketball program possessed both the conference’s Player and Coach of the Year, there was some surprise. Each had performed valiantly in his role this year, earning the second seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and exceeding expectations set months before a single shot was taken or play was called. Because when it came time to do those things, Joseph Young made lots and Dana Altman called the right ones. For their efforts, the coaches of the Pac-12 recognized them. It was the most recognition the program had received in months.

Will added expectations curtail Joseph Young and Oregon? (USA TODAY Sports)

Will added expectations curtail Joseph Young and Oregon? (USA TODAY Sports)

You see, Oregon has been under the radar since they went off the radar, dismissing several key players from what had projected as a big season. You know this. But what we don’t really know is what Oregon looks like with expectations. How the neons shine in the spotlight. The Ducks have been fitted for their targets and we’re not really sure how well they’ll fit. They’ve won nine of 10 games since starting conference play a pedestrian 4-4. During that streak, they’re scoring 1.11 points per possession (good) and yielding 1.02 (average). Offensively this is slightly better than their season average (1.09), but defensively it’s on par. The streak, as it were, seems to be nothing beyond the ordinary. Having something expected of this group is. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Season Superlatives

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2015

The regular season has ended and Pac-12 fans are looking forward to the postseason. Before we all descend on Las Vegas for a fun four days of action, let’s run down our Pac-12 superlatives for the 2014-15 campaign.

Player of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah – It came down to a three-man race for POY between Wright, Arizona’s T.J. McConnell and Oregon’s Joseph Young (who won the official Pac-12 award). McConnell was the senior leader on the conference’s best team and the glue that brought the Wildcats together, but he mustered only two second-place votes in our four-man vote. Young, the conference’s best scoring guard and an underrated playmaker, also earned two second-place votes. In the end, though, it was Wright who earned the first-place vote on all four of our ballots. As the Utes’ primary playmaker and the only player capable of creating his own offense, Wright was the best player on the floor in most of the games he played this season. Whether looking at traditional or advanced stats, Wright’s numbers across the stat sheet are very impressive.

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah (14.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.7 RPG. 2.1 SPG) – The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year.
  • Joseph Young, Sr, Oregon (19.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.7 APG) – The conference’s best shooter and scorer does so much more than put the ball in the hoop.
  • TJ McConnell, Sr, Arizona (9.6 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG) – The consummate point guard and senior leader, McConnell’s impact cannot be summed up in numbers.
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona (11.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG) – The conference’s best defender made strides on the offensive end during his second year.
  • Stanley Johnson, Fr, Arizona (13.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG) – The Wildcats’ leading scorer is the third member of the squad on our first team.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 15

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort (USA Today)

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort. (USA Today)

Two teams in the conference went on the road and came away with sweeps last week. Alas, we can only pick one in this space, so we leave Oregon – and their likely NCAA Tournament-clinching week aside – to go with the team that locked up a share of the conference title by knocking off upstart Utah in Salt Lake City. After blowing out Colorado in a dominant performance with everybody contributing, Saturday night’s game was all about toughness. The Wildcats started fast and closed fast, taking home the Pac-12 title largely on the strength of their calling card, defense. In a one-point game down the stretch, the Wildcats held Utah without a point in their final four possessions to pull out the title-clinching win.

(Also receiving votes: Oregon)

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Marching to Vegas: On Dana Altman’s Young Ducks

Posted by Adam Butler on February 27th, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

On two separate occasions this year, Sean Miller has noted the work of Dana Altman. In December he said Altman was the Coach of the Year and this week he “marveled” at Altman’s work. The praise is warranted. Altman’s team projects to make its third consecutive NCAA Tournament despite 10 newcomers and a tumultuous offseason. One of my favorite Altman facts – which notably does not pertain to this season – is that in back-to-back years (2013 and 2014) he coached the 10th-best defense followed by the 11th-best offense. The fact alone is impressive enough on its own, and then you consider his coaching adjustments for the well-documented personnel turnover, and everything really begins to make sense. In 2015, his Oregon team was meant to fly under the radar. And perhaps they have. It’s not often we heap our focus on a volume shooter and a bunch of freshmen who were 5-4 at the turn of conference play. But it’s time we really start paying attention. The Ducks certainly got Utah’s attention and as they head to The Farm this weekend for what seems to be a Dance-or-die battle with the Cardinal, it’s probably worth understanding just what makes these Ducks tick.

Dana Altman's Ability To Get The Most Out of New Faces Is Nearly Unparalleled (credit: Alex Brandon)

Dana Altman’s Ability To Get The Most Out of New Faces Is Nearly Unparalleled. (Alex Brandon/AP)

If we’re to do so in a word, the most appropriate one would be: YOUNG. You guys, it’s a pun. Because this team runs four young freshmen as supplemental parts to the Joseph Young scoring machine. Double meaning. Let’s begin our conversation focusing on the former. Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie have been more than a pleasant surprise for Altman. But the interesting case is that – after four years of consistent turnover and seemingly brand new rosters – is this really a surprise? This was the 22nd-best class in America, according to Scout.com, and the fourth-best in the Pac-12. Impressive but not overwhelming. Florida had the 11th-best class and the Gators stink. So too does USC (12th-best class) and Michigan (16th), and Missouri (19th). Now look at how this group stacks up against qualifying freshmen in the Pac-12 with regards to Offensive Rating:

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Pac-12 Senior Days: Oregon’s Joseph Young

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 22nd, 2015

Over the years, college basketball seasons develop a rhythm of their own for me. There are the manic early days of the season when I’m scrambling around between many different channels and early season tournaments to get a feel for new teams and new players, all while trying to keep up with the stretch run in college football. December rolls around and the pace slows some with finals in time for the holidays and I watch fewer games more intently. The New Year brings a new flash of excitement as conference play starts. There’s a light schedule for Big Monday, then Tuesdays and Wednesdays bring an abundance of games before Thursday lightens up again and we all take Friday easy (usually) in preparation for the weekend. Saturday is always an overwhelming cavalcade of game after game from early morning to late night. Sunday is a light dessert. Then rinse and repeat. You get used to the schedule and begin to take the college basketball season for granted. It will always be like this, right?

Joseph Young's Senior Day Marks The Beginning Of The End Of Another College Basketball Season (Daily Emerald)

Joseph Young’s Senior Day Marks The Beginning Of The End Of Another College Basketball Season (Daily Emerald)

And then some day you look up and another page on the calendar is gone and that shortest of months is nearing its end and – holy crap! This season is almost over! If it was midnight and I had a couple drinks in me, maybe I’d draw a parallel between a college basketball season and a life well lived. But it’s not. It’s 9:00 AM. And I’m already getting off track. You see, one of my favorite parts of a college basketball season begins this weekend: Senior Days. It’s a chance for programs and fans to pause for a moment in that busy and all-t00-fleeting season to say thanks to those guys who have paid their dues and made their way to the finish line of their collegiate eligibility. Back in the old days, that usually meant the end of a four-year career at one spot. These days, those seniors are a rarity; sometimes guys transfer three times; sometimes they bounce to a new school just for their final season. But in all cases, seniors are a special breed in college basketball. There’s a whole lot of water under the bridge by the time you get to that year. Games have changed; life has imparted lessons. Guys who came into school as bright-eyed brash freshmen have turned into grizzled, weathered veterans with the experiences that will serve them well as they head out into life.

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Picking a Pac-12 All-Star Game

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 13th, 2015

I was poking around some of the upcoming posts on Rush the Court last night, not entirely sure what I wanted to write about, when I stumbled across Brendan Brody’s piece over on the Big Ten microsite about picking a pair of All-Star Game rosters out of that conference. Well, that seemed like a perfectly brilliant idea to me, so I figured I’d steal borrow that notion and shift out west to the Conference of Champions. He’s got 12-man rosters in a 14 (or 16 or 18? God knows how many teams are in the Big-Can’t Count) team league, and we’ve only got 12, so I’m just going to fill out two 10-man rosters and split them based on the North/South divisions that the conference uses for football. One other caveat: We’re going to steal an idea from the MLB (probably the first time I’ve ever used that phrase) and require at least one player from each team. And, since we’re going to have an All-Star Game, we might as well make a full weekend out of it and host a dunk contest, a three-point contest and a skills competition, right? Let’s jump right in.

Seriously. How Cool Would An In-Season Conference All-Star Game Be?

Seriously. How Cool Would An In-Season Conference All-Star Game Be?

Pac-12 North All-Stars

Starters

  • G: Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford
  • G: Joseph Young, Sr, Oregon
  • G: Gary Payton II, Jr, Oregon State
  • F: Anthony Brown, Sr, Stanford
  • F: Josh Hawkinson, So, Washington State

Bench

  • G: Davonte Lacy, Sr, Washington State
  • G: Nigel Williams-Goss, So, Washington
  • G: Tyrone Wallace, Jr, California
  • F: Jordan Bell, Fr, Oregon
  • C: Stefan Nastic, Sr, Stanford

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