Pac-12 M5: 12.04.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 4th, 2013

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  1. Oregon head coach Dana Altman was rewarded after a quick start to the 2013-14 season with a three-year contract extension last week. The Oregonian takes a closer look inside his new contract, which reportedly includes a $100,000 signing bonus. Outside of the extra money, the most critical part of the extension is the increased job security, which will be big for Altman’s continued recruiting over the next several years. The amended contract allows Altman to earn $525,000 for an NCAA title, up from a $295,000 number on his initial one. Altman and his 7-0 Ducks return to the floor Sunday at Mississippi.
  2. Does the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis field boast one of the best eight-team fields in early season tournament history? It’s certainly possible, what with each of the eight schools either a traditional power or providing some intrigue. Just like in the 2013 version, the Pac-12 will be represented by one of the Los Angeles schools, this time with UCLA heading to the Caribbean. North Carolina, Georgetown and Florida are the other powers headed to the Bahamas, while Butler, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and UAB (who just beat the Tar Heels on Sunday) are all solid names to round out the bracket.
  3. Arizona won its eighth consecutive game to open the season on Tuesday night, jumping in front of Texas Tech early and coming out with a dominant 79-58 victory. The Wildcats were up 10-0 on the Red Raiders before they had a chance to blink, and it was 23-10 Arizona almost as quickly. Freshman sensation Aaron Gordon led the Cats with 19 points in the 21-point victory, but next up is a bit of a stiffer test, a visit from UNLV at the McKale Center on Saturday afternoon.
  4. Former Wildcat head coach Lute Olson joins the growing list of big names to voice his displeasure in the new way games are being officiated. His top complaint is also mine; the new rules were created to add more flow to the game, especially on offense, but in the first three and a half weeks of basketball, I’ve only seen a handful of games with actual rhythm. Teams are scoring more, but that has more to do with trips to the foul line than better flow to the game. Will teams eventually adjust? Absolutely, but it is getting pretty bad.
  5. Are there people out there still questioning the Larry Krystkowiak hire at Utah? Krystkowiak has made that team fun to watch and competitive, and after winning its first six games this season, the Utes went into Boise on Tuesday night and nearly shocked a Broncos team that went dancing last March. Even though Boise pulled out the 69-67 win, Utah proved that its great start wasn’t necessarily because of a soft schedule and that it should be feared once Pac-12 play rolls around.
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Pac-12 M5: 11.25.13 Edition

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

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  1. Welcome to Feast Week! It’s already been a great November of basketball with high quality hoops from coast to coast (and beyond), but we have still got one of the best weeks of the regular season ahead of us, with wall-to-wall ball and great tournament action. There will be plenty of Pac-12 action this week, but Cal and Stanford tip things off today, and the two cross-bay rivals will be playing in a pair of games about 5,000 miles apart from each other. The Golden Bears will get things underway in the Maui Invitational today just after 9 AM local time, while the Cardinal will face Houston at roughly 9:30 PM in Brooklyn this evening in the semifinals of the Legends Classic. But for both schools, it will be a chance to measure themselves against good competition and get some national publicity.
  2. Utah got to 5-0 this weekend after sweeping through the Global Sports Hoops Showcase, an exempt event hosted by the university that featured less than stellar competition. Over the course of three days, the Utes knocked off Grand Canyon, Lamar, and finally Savannah State to win the event. And yet, despite the relatively unappetizing appeal of the opponents, the Utes announced attendances averaging better than 7000 every night. Either that is some very creative accounting, or there are a few fan bases around the conference that could learn from the Ute fans.
  3. USC head coach Andy Enfield made a big splash on Friday with some loaded quotes in an article published in Men’s Journal. The money quotes are straight trash talking about fellow coaches, like cross-town rival Steve Alford and former USC head coach Tim Floyd, currently that head man at UTEP. About Floyd, Enfield dropped this bomb: “Tim Floyd shows up every day at work and realizes he lives in El Paso, Texas. And he’s pissed off that he didn’t get the USC job [again].” While Alford received this treatment: “I’ve made it to one Sweet 16 in two years, and he’s made it to one Sweet 16 in 18 years.” Just a reminder: you may want to circle January 5 on your calendar, as Enfield’s Trojans will visit Alford’s Bruins that day. You probably won’t have to watch the second half.
  4. Speaking of USC, with the news that J.T. Terrell was declared academically ineligible for the rest of the fall semester dropping last week, Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports writes that the gamble that former USC head coach Kevin O’Neill took on Terrell and his former Wake Forest teammate Ari Stewart most decidedly did not pay off. Stewart saved the drama and earned himself an academically ineligible designation prior to the season. The duo had run into problems – both academic and otherwise – previously in their college careers.
  5. Lastly, Arizona head coach Sean Miller weighed in Friday on his 2014 recruiting class, the latest in an increasingly long line of unabashed successes. His class features 6’6” wing Stanley Johnson (the #9 overall recruit according to ESPN), 6’7” power forward Craig Victor (#29) and 5’8” mighty-mite point guard Parker Johnson-Cartwright (#60), along with off-the-radar JuCo guard Kadeem Allen. But, Miller says scoring a big recruiting class like this just buys a coach a little more time, but that he’s still got to go out next year and do it all over again. Meanwhile, former Arizona head coach Lute Olson can relate and says one of the big things he doesn’t miss about coaching is having to deal with the new dynamics in recruiting.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.17.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 17th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Since the firing of Kevin O’Neill on Monday morning, coaches on the hot seat are on the minds of many around the conference. Bud Withers of The Seattle Times points to Craig Robinson, Johnny Dawkins and Ken Bone as the three remaining Pac-12 coaches most likely to be relieved of their duties following the season, and one of the factors that could play a part in their departures is the relative disinterest of the fan bases, especially at Stanford and Washington State, where small crowds have become a theme. Of note is that Ben Howland is missing from Withers’ list, but rest assured, barring a deep run in the NCAA Tournament (meaning at least past the first weekend), Howland’s position will be reevaluated once the season ends.
  2. Continuing to mine that O’Neill theme, the Arizona Daily Wildcat has a piece about how the state of UA basketball could have been much different had previous events turned out differently. To begin with, O’Neill was the interim head coach at Arizona when Lute Olson took his leave of absence in 2007-08, and, were it not for a change of heart on Olson’s part, the plan was to make O’Neill the head man when Olson retired. When that plan fell through, O’Neill wound up free to take the USC job when Tim Floyd abruptly resigned in the wake of recruiting allegations. And, in that whole regime change, guys who had been committed to USC, namely Derrick Williams and Momo Jones, wound up de-committing and instead enrolling at Arizona, became key cogs in the 2011 Elite Eight team. Solomon Hill was also at one point committed to Tim Floyd and USC, but he backed out of that and switched his allegiance to Arizona prior to the coaching change. In short, were it not for a couple simple twists of fate involving O’Neill, the present face of Arizona basketball would look significantly different.
  3. Aside from that, you know, we actually had some games in the conference tonight. Where Wednesday games were sort of a one-off rivalry-game-only type of thing in the past, these are a regular occurrence every week this year. It takes some getting used to, sure, but really, basketball spread out more evenly through the week? I ain’t complaining. Washington State kicked things off last night by raining down fire from deep on Utah on the way to the Cougs’ first conference win of the season. Coug Center’s got your round-up of all the action, including Mike Ladd’s career night. It’s worth noting that Ladd is starting to pick up the pace offensively and it is he, rather than more popular possibilities like DaVonte Lacy or Royce Woolridge, who has stepped up as the second option on this team behind Brock Motum. Ladd has now scored in double figures in five straight games, averaging better than 16 points per night over that span.
  4. As Sabatino Chen’s desperation three-pointer banked in at the buzzer at the end of Colorado’s conference opener, it appeared that the Buffaloes were ready to be a serious contender for the Pac-12 title. Almost literally since that exact moment, not much has gone right for CU. Moments later, that shot was perhaps erroneously waved off. Soon thereafter the Buffs folded in overtime of that game. And since that night, they’ve proceeded to drop three of their next four, stumbling to a 1-4 conference start, including last night’s 10-point loss at Washington. But, while Colorado gets much of the attention for their sudden failures, the Huskies are out to a surprising 4-0 conference start. But, as Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times notes, while past Husky teams have made their mark with style and flair, this vintage of UW is getting it done with grit, hustle and smarts. And, perhaps not coincidentally, they’re overachieving this year, as opposed to their almost annual recent underachievements.
  5. Lastly, on a day that wasn’t all that great for Oregon sports, there was bad news for the basketball program as well when it came to light that the prep school that 2013 recruit Cristiano Felicio is currently attending may be under scrutiny for its legitimacy as an educational institution. And, the crazy part about this story is that may not be the worst part about it. Aside from possibly being little more than a scam perpetrated on talented basketball players, the president of the school is under investigation for physically abusing some of the schools players by subjecting them to “hands and feet bound with zip ties” and “clothes pins attached to their nipples.” Yikes.
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Pac-12 Weekly Five: 10.04.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on October 4th, 2012

  1. We’re still about a week out from the start of practices, but Utah already has to recalibrate its plans for the year, as 7’3” fifth-year senior David Foster reinjured the foot that kept him on the sidelines last year and will prepare to undergo another surgery on that foot next week. That surgery will not only keep him out of action this year, it effectively ends his career as a Ute. Foster, who goes down as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 219, was never much of an offensive threat, but his size and shot-blocking ability made him a force on the defensive end. Minus the services of Foster, the Utes still boast plenty of size, but instead of 6’10” senior Jason Washburn starting out at the four opposite Foster, he’ll have to man the post, with 6’9” junior power forward Renan Lenz likely being bumped into the starting lineup. The Utes will still feature plenty of size, however, with 7’0” center Dallin Bachynski being the obvious choice to eat up many of the minutes vacated by Foster.
  2. While it has become common for schools to celebrate the beginning of basketball practice with a Midnight Madness event, Arizona’s got a little tradition of their own. The Red-Blue game, an intrasquad scrimmage and hardwood festival, this year will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987-88 Final Four team, with luminaries such as Lute Olson, Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, Kenny Lofton, Tom Tolbert, Sean Rooks and Matt Muehlebach all expected back in Tucson for the event. Throw in the fact that it will be Wildcat fans’ first good look at newcomers like Mark Lyons, Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York on a team that could put all of the pieces together to make its own Final Four run, and Sunday, October 21 is a date to circle for UA fans.
  3. California head coach Mike Montgomery picked up his third commitment for the Bears’ 2013 recruiting class Tuesday. Ransom Everglades point guard Sam Singer chose the Bears over Harvard, NC State, Stanford, and USC, among others. Despite the fact that Singer might be behind California’s first two commits (Jordan Matthews and Jabari Bird) in scoring and athleticism, his passing ability and decision-making makes him a good candidate to see early minutes as a freshman. As Rob Dauster points out, the Miami native does have a solid three-point stroke, but with Brandon Smith playing his final season in Berkeley this year, there is no question Singer’s ability at the one spot will be much-needed. Now with three guards in the Class of 2013, Montgomery will likely turn to a big man to fill out the slate.
  4. It’s preview magazine time, which behind playing actual games is one of the best parts in the college basketball year. Percy Allen gives a quick breakdown of Athlon‘s thoughts on the Pac-12 in this post. Of note is their pick of Arizona to take the conference crown, which is all the sudden becoming the trendy pick instead of the all-star UCLA squad that Ben Howland has assembled. The Bruins are projected to finish second, just ahead of the two Bay Area schools to round out the upper third of the league.
  5. So, after five weeks of college football, Connor holds a three-game lead in our prognostication battle. Drew shaved a game off his deficit with a pair of solid picks in Washington and Arizona State, but Oregon State came through in the desert to prevent a huge disaster on Connor’s side. Picking the game of the week proved to be a quandary in week six. Washington-Oregon wins out, being a rivalry between two Top 25 teams, but oddly, every other game will likely be closer than that one. Make sure to tune in to tonight’s battle in Salt Lake City, as it is the only pick that we differ on. Here’s our picks for this week, with our game of the week pick in bold:
Game Connor’s Pick (32-11) Drew’s Pick (29-14)
USC at Utah Utah USC
Washington State at Oregon State Oregon State Oregon State
Arizona at Stanford Stanford Stanford
UCLA at California UCLA UCLA
Washington at Oregon Oregon 45-24 Oregon 53-27
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Jim Calhoun Hints At Retirement: How Will UConn Sustain His Progress?

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 7th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

When programs are so closely associated with one legendary coach, it’s often difficult to properly gauge their sustainability and staying power. Coaching leadership and innovation, when harnessed in the right ways, can ignite and maintain momentum. In these instances, when sideline legends engineer complete turnarounds at places with little or no previous historical success, the burning question is whether the building project and subsequent rise has set the stage for long-term security and continuity, or if the inevitable coaching change will undo the trailblazing predecessor’s foundational work. UConn men’s basketball is one of these programs. The Huskies’ success is impossible to extract from its longtime head coach Jim Calhoun. UConn garnered some regional recognition as a member of the Yankee Conference under Hugh Greer, but it was only when Calhoun took over – not to mention UConn’s move to the Big East in 1979, a conference created with the goal of assembling the region’s best basketball programs – that the Huskies truly hit their stride on the national stage. In 1986-87, Calhoun’s first season as head coach, UConn finished 9-19. Two years later, the Huskies won their first national postseason tournament when they knocked off Ohio State en route to an NIT championship. By 1990, UConn had claimed its first Big East title along with a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. More importantly, UConn debuted its new on-campus home, Gampel Pavilion, signaling a positive turn in the school’s administrative support for the ascendant Huskies. Nine Big East titles and three National Championships later, UConn has clearly established itself among the college hoops elite. It seems unlikely the Huskies will ever recede into their pre-Calhoun irrelevance, but there remains a sneaking suspicion that UConn will lose at least some measure of its national prestige once their pioneering head coach calls it quits.

It sounds as if Calhoun is ready to leave the program he elevated to elite status (Photo credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images).

What once felt like an unimaginable outcome – that Calhoun, after morphing UConn into the national powerhouse it is today, would step down – has inched closer and closer to reality. In fact, the timetable for his retirement could dictate that Calhoun has seen his last moments on the Huskies sidelines. In a candid interview with SI.com’s Mark Blaudschun, Calhoun spoke with humbling acceptance and resignation of the circumstances surrounding his health and the program he practically built from the ground up. Calhoun, 70, is coming off his 26th season at the helm, just two years removed from winning his third – and arguably his most impressive, given the talent on hand – national championship. The Huskies, who returned much of their championship rotation (minus Kemba Walker) and welcomed in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, vastly underperformed in their title-defense season. Calhoun missed three games due to recruiting violations, and UConn was notified it had been banned from the 2013 postseason thanks to its inability to meet the NCAA’s increasingly stringent APR standards. Still, Calhoun, undeterred by the variety of factors weighing against him, thought he could extend his career on the sidelines, if only to lead UConn out of the grim short-term outlook it now faces. That may still be the case, but an offseason bike injury requiring hip surgery seems to have sapped the competitive drive that has long defined Calhoun’s coaching psyche. From Blaudschun’s story:

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Arizona Week: State of the Program Address

Posted by AMurawa on June 30th, 2012

We been all around the Arizona basketball program this week, but we’ve got one last post to go, the one in which we step way back and look at the big picture of the program, not just looking at what the next season holds, but the overall trajectory of the program. Given the stunning success the program enjoyed under legendary head coach Lute Olson, it is no secret that the last few years have been sub-par. Two NCAA Tournaments missed in the last three years is especially galling to a program that ran off 25 straight appearances, but that’s in the past now. What should – and what will –  the next decade or more of Arizona basketball look like?

Arizona

Following Lute Olson’s Unprecedented Run Of Success In Tucson, The Expectations In Tucson Will Always Be High

Prior to Lute Olson, Wildcat basketball was an afterthought on the national scene. But after 11 Pac-10 titles in 25 years, with 11 Sweet 16s, four Final Fours and a national title mixed in there, Arizona is without a doubt an elite program, a solid #2 program in their conference (for evidence of how strong a program Arizona is, watch some of their fans take offense at being referred to as the #2 program in the conference). Olson established Tucson as a legitimate landing spot for elite recruits from around the country. Further, upgrades to the basketball facilities which began under Olson have continued under new head coach Sean Miller. Between the McKale Center and the Richard Jefferson Gym, the Wildcats enjoy excellent facilities, even if the 41-year old McKale is no longer exactly state-of-the-art, a fact more than made up for by the consistent fan support that building houses.

As for Olson’s replacement, despite the two missed NCAA tourneys in Miller’s first three seasons, the new head man has a history of success, taking Xavier to four tournament appearances in his five seasons there, including two Sweet 16s. And the Elite Eight run in his one NCAA appearance at UA has not only earned him time, but it has earned him the confidence of his fanbase and the trust of recruits, who saw Derrick Williams rise from an afterthought as a recruit to the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. In short, Miller has credibility not only for those close to the UA program, but for the recruits who he’ll need to entice to the desert to get the ‘Cats back to their perch atop the Pac-12.

And really, those are the rightful expectations for the Arizona program: consistently competing for and winning conference titles, regularly advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament and occasionally landing in the Final Four. A national title every decade or two wouldn’t hurt either. Lute Olson set a high bar for the program, and while his run of success is the exception, rather than the rule, over the long arc of the program, it is, for better or worse, the standard for the modern-era of Arizona basketball. Basketball fans around the nation expect the Arizona program to be an unfailing national force, playing ridiculously tough regular season schedules, making NCAA Tournaments annually, pipelining players to the NBA. It is a realistic goal for the program because it has been done before. And barring a major change in culture, that is the expectation for all future head coaches at UA. There will likely be coaches in the future who are not up to that challenge, just as UCLA, Kentucky and North Carolina, for instance, have made missteps in hiring for the head seat. And the leash that those coaches get will not always be long. But, forever and anon, the expectations in Tucson will be vast. As they should be.

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Arizona Week: Q&A With Pachoops’ Adam Butler

Posted by AMurawa on June 29th, 2012

As we head toward closing out our coverage of the Arizona basketball program in our third of a summer-long series of in-depth looks at Pac-12 schools, we’re inviting Adam Butler of Pachoops back in to give us his thoughts on the big questions facing the Wildcats in 2012-13. Adam gave us a hand yesterday with our Burning Question of the week, and we hope to have him back from time to time to add his unique perspective. Without further ado, here’s what we came up with:

RTC: Let’s dig right in here Adam, starting from the top of the program. So, in 29 seasons since Lute Olson took over the Wildcat program, the team has missed the NCAA Tournament exactly three times: Olson’s first year, and then two of the three years under current head coach Sean Miller. Yet, it seems there is a confidence around the program that not only do they have the right coach, but that big things are on the verge of happening again in Tucson. Do you hold that view as well? And why or why not?

Sean Miller, Arizona

Arizona Has Missed The NCAA Tournament In Two Of Sean Miller’s Three Seasons In The Desert, But Arizona Fans Still Have Faith In Their Head Coach (AP Photo)

AB: Oh the Lute years were sweet. Arizona was no worse than a five-seed for 16 straight tournaments. Do you realize how awful March 2010 was for me? I literally fled the country. But I’ve digressed. Yes, I think Sean Miller is on the verge of very big things. He’s a phenomenal coach and has already demonstrated such in very short order. He took a bare cupboard and turned that into an Elite Eight; and before we get too far down the road talking about how that 2009 class fell into his lap, it did fall into his lap and those kids could’ve gone anywhere. But they chose Miller for a reason. And my impression of that reason is that he’s piecing together a very special something in the desert. I like to use Indiana’s rebuilding as a barometer and if you look at where they are following Kelvin Sampson bottoming them out, Tom Crean is in year five with the top team in the country in the preseason. Last season – year four – was their first taste of big success again. Arizona has essentially followed the same trajectory (2010-11 was a glorious anomaly), and finds itself with a very sound roster here in Miller year four and project to have a filthy year five. Here, let me pass you the Kool-Aid.

RTC: While the 2012-13 version of the Wildcats will have five returnees from last season, all of whom should get some run, it is a group of four highly touted freshmen and incoming transfer Mark Lyons who give the program the most cause for optimism. Let’s start with Lyons. He’s not a true point, is more of a shoot-first guy and his most recent head coach, Chris Mack, didn’t seem all that sad to see him transfer. Can he really be the type of point guard to help meld together some talented returnees with a frontcourt-heavy freshman class?

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Arizona Week: Evaluating the Recent Past

Posted by AMurawa on June 25th, 2012

For better or worse, there are three overriding eras in the history of the Arizona basketball program, all revolving around Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson. There is, of course, the Lute Olson era, from 1983 to 2007, during which the Wildcats made 23 straight NCAA Tournaments (over the course of 24 seasons), advanced to four Final Fours and won their lone NCAA Championship in 1997. The other two eras are dictated by their relationship to the Silver Fox’s reign in the desert. The pre-Olson era had its moments, mostly under Fred Enke (who coached the program from 1925 to 1961) when the Wildcats owned the Border Conference in the 1940s and advanced to three NITs and one NCAA Tournament, but by and large, the Arizona program was a non-entity prior to Olson’s arrival from Iowa. However, the end of the Olson era left the Wildcat program in something of a mess, as health and personal issues caused the transfer of power to be choppy at best, with Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell each limited to single ill-prepared seasons in the desert. Throw in the fact that the results from the 2007-08 season had to be vacated because of violations committed by Olson, and for a stretch, there was some doubt as to whether the program could live up to the high standards set by their iconic head coach.

Lute Olson, Arizona

Lute Olson’s Legacy Casts A Heavy Shadow Over the Arizona Basketball Program (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

But, in the spring of 2009, highly regarded head coach Sean Miller agreed to leave Xavier and become the new top man in the desert, immediately reestablishing a sense of stability around the program. Despite the fact that his Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament in his first season after 25-straight appearances, the program was back in the limelight in his second year, as the Wildcats won the Pac-10 and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2010-11, before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut as a potential game-winning three rimmed out at the buzzer. While last year’s team again missed the NCAA Tournament, Miller assuaged the fears of Wildcat fans by inking an elite recruiting class, ranked third in the nation by ESPNU, featuring three top 20 recruits. For the most part, there appears to be a confidence around the program that, despite a few bumps along the road in transition from Olson to Miller, the road ahead looks smooth.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 23rd, 2012

  1. After some speculation that Oregon head coach Dana Altman might be interested in returning to his Nebraska roots and taking the open Cornhusker position, it seems set in stone now that he will remain in Eugene. However, even after two seasons in which his teams have exceeded expectations, Duck fans may be beginning to get a little impatient. Already. Complaints include his inability to bring in big time recruits and, somewhat unbelievably, an inability to develop talent. Such is the culture of college basketball at this point that even coming into a program with cupboards completely barren, results are expected immediately and any disappointments are chalked up to some perceived failures with the head coach. To me, the fact that Altman had his team earn a postseason berth last year with that mishmash of a roster with nobody taller than 6’6” playing more than 50% of the team’s minutes was incredible and worthy of conference Coach of the Year consideration. And in fact this season, we gave him our Pac-12 COY for his work in the regular season. However, for some people, anything short of immediate deep runs into the NCAA Tournament is unacceptable. Of course, this seems like the same type of instant gratification mindset that led Altman’s top recruit Jabari Brown to leave the program after just two games.
  2. Across the conference at one of the newest Pac-12 schools, Colorado has no such disappointments with its head coach, Tad Boyle. After the team’s second consecutive 20-win season and an NCAA Tournament win, Boyle appears to have the Buffaloes on the fast track to success. In the first two parts of a series, The Ralphie Report pays respect to the seniors who have used up their eligibility, while looking ahead to the future of the program. Starting with a core of Andre Roberson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, there are some good pieces returning for Colorado. Shane Harris-Tunks made big strides down the stretch this year after missing last season with a torn ACL. He’s still got two years of eligibility remaining and he could possibly turn into a very solid Pac-12 big man. Elsewhere, Sabatino Chen and Jeremy Adams return, while there is some talk that Shannon Sharpe and Ben Mills, two little-used players, could transfer out of the program. With a strong freshman class coming in (which will be the topic of part three of that series), fresh minutes for Mills and Sharpe could be hard to come by.
  3. At Arizona, there’s time to pay respect to senior guard Kyle Fogg as his eligibility in the desert has expired. A key player in the transition from the Lute Olson era to the Sean Miller era, Fogg goes down in the Arizona record books as an unlikely figure among other more widely recognized Wildcat greats. But now, going forward, this program is truly Sean Miller’s with all of the key components in Tucson as a result of the new head coach.
  4. As part of the Utah plan to rebuild its program from the depths of a 6-25 season, the team will be heading on an international trip in August, with either a tour of France and Italy or a trip to Brazil still in the planning stages. NCAA rules allow schools to make such a trip once every four years and with the Utes expecting to break in a heap of new players next season, including transfer from Southern Utah Dallin Bachynski (brother of ASU center Jordan Bachynski), returning LDS missionary Jeremy Olsen and three high school seniors, the trip will serve as a chance for the team and head coach Larry Krystkowiak to get in ten extra practices, as many as seven games and a bunch of time bonding as a team.
  5. Lastly, back on the hunt for clues as to Shabazz Muhammad’s mindset, the father of incoming UCLA recruit Kyle Anderson says that he expects Muhammad to pick UCLA, if only because his parent are from Los Angeles and they might want to get back there. The elder Anderson admits that he has no inside information and is just throwing out opinions, but even with the problems in the Bruin program lately, it still appears that UCLA has been the choice all along for Muhammad.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 7th, 2012

  1. On the eve of the kickoff of the Pac-12 Tournament comes news that the conference has reached an agreement to move at least the next two conference tournaments to Las Vegas. No official announcement has been made yet, but it could be official as early as Saturday night. The games would be played at the MGM Grand Arena, making it the fourth different conference tournament to be held in Las Vegas (joining the WCC, MW and WAC). Given declining attendance and a reputation for a less-than-thrilling atmosphere at its current home at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, this could be a welcome boost of adrenaline for a flagging event.
  2. Heading into the tournament, we’re still wondering whether the Pac-12 can get two teams, maybe even three, into the NCAA Tournament. Of all the teams, it appears that California is the safest best to get in, with an RPI of #37 and a couple wins over top 50 RPI teams. California Golden Blogs notes that Joe Lunardi says that the Bears can get in even with an opening round loss to Stanford this week, but, of course, if they want to be safe, they get that win and even another one against Oregon (which could, paradoxically, knock the Ducks out of the top 50 in the RPI and knock the Bears back down to 0-3 in that metric) to tighten up their case.
  3. At the Autzen Zoo, they’re making a case for three Pac-12 teams worthy of bids, a stance that is not particularly surprising given that the third team would be their beloved Oregon Ducks. They write that “the Pac-12 isn’t as bad as the biased east-coast fans think it is” and I would agree with that – I think that the top four, maybe even as deep as the top six teams are capable Pac-12 squads, even if there is no one great team here. The problem is of course that the tournament resumes of these teams are not good at all. There are no real statement wins against great teams; there are precious few wins against any teams of NCAA Tournament-caliber; and there are poor RPI numbers right on down the line. If there is disappointment around the conference on Selection Sunday, it is deserved.
  4. John Gasaway takes the stance that, although this conference is literally the weakest major conference in years, it’s not as bad as some make it out to be. What really drags the overall conference numbers down is the bottom of the conference – teams like USC, Utah and Arizona State that have suffered through horrifically bad seasons. Further, he sees the top five or so teams as consistent with what we’ve seen out of similar teams in the past two years in the conference. The bad news is, the past two years in the conference have been down years for the league as well, albeit not as far down as this season. Still, Gasaway sees promise in California and Washington, as well as UCLA, who he notes has been better on a possession-by-possession basis than the Huskies and right in the same general area as Arizona and Oregon.
  5. Lastly, Jeff Faraudo and Jon Wilner try to provide some reasons for the depths to which the Pac-12 has plunged. Among their reasons: 1) the decision to sign a TV contract with Fox instead of ESPN, hurting their national TV exposure and keeping Pac-12 teams off the radar of some recruits; 2) changes in personnel not only on rosters (early NBA entries, outgoing transfers), but on benches (Lute Olson, Tony Bennett, Tim Floyd); 3) UCLA’s well-publicized problems in their program; and 4) the fact that there just haven’t been a ton of elite-level recruits coming out of California in recent years.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: Leap Day Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 29th, 2012

  1. It’s the last day of February, a glorious time to be a college hoops fan, right? But for UCLA fans, not only are they on the verge of being on the outside looking in during the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, but Sports Illustrated today publishes an “extremely negative” article about the Bruin basketball program. Pulitzer Prize winner George Dohrmann – author of “Play Their Hearts Out”, among other things – will publish a piece today, which deals with the downfall of the program, from Final Four installation to Pac-12 also-ran. The bulk of the story deals with destructive behavior from a handful of players in UCLA’s 2008 and 2009 classes (most notably – surprise! – Reeves Nelson), but plenty of blame is laid at the feet of head coach Ben Howland for not dealing with that behavior promptly or fairly. The content of the article certainly didn’t live up to the fears that UCLA fans experienced on Tuesday, when they found out that Dohrmann, breaker of the Minnesota cheating scandal in 1999 and the Ohio State football scandal last season, was dropping a bombshell on the program, but certainly any negative article about the Bruins at this point is not a good thing for the long term prospects of Howland, already regarded as being potentially on the hot seat. Howland commented on Tuesday that he can’t talk specifically about former players, and that “everybody makes mistakes, I’m definitely not perfect” but that he thinks he has “for the most part” handled things correctly. We’ll have more on this story later today and in the future as events warrant.
  2. Sort of annoying that we have to deal with that kind of story right at the start of what should be about a month-long holiday for fans of the sport, so let’s try to wipe away that story by focusing on some good stories. And there may be no better story in the Pac-12 this year than Arizona’s Kyle Fogg. Fogg came from being an afterthought in the 2008 recruiting class, only signed by Lute Olson because the Wildcats were losing Jerryd Bayless after just one year, as well as a couple graduating seniors, and needed some “fresh blood.” Now, four years later, Fogg is well on his way to becoming an All-Pac-12 performer and he already occupies spots in several Wildcat career top ten lists.
  3. Another senior who has come from relative obscurity to claim a spot as one of the conference’s best players is Oregon senior guard Garrett Sim, who just got done torching in-state rival Oregon State, the alma mater of both of his parents, to the tune of 25 points on ten-of-14 shooting. And for one Duck fan, Sim is the perfect player for the home crowd to root for – not only effective, but eminently annoying to opposing teams and opposing fans. And yes, annoying is a good thing in this context.
  4. Sim has certainly turned it on as a senior, but California’s Jorge Gutierrez has got the whole “thorn in the side to opposing teams” thing down pat after four years of experience. Even as a freshman, Gutierrez’s relentless energy, hustle and defensive pestiness drove opposing fanbases crazy, but over the years, as the Golden Bear combo guard developed his game, he has earned grudging respect from up and down the conference. While just about every coach – save one – in the conference will be glad to see Gutierrez’s eligibility expire, we’ll certainly be missing a little fire in our game next season.
  5. Lastly, let’s jump up to Washington State for one last bit of finding that silver lining, because as Jeff Nusser at CougCenter points out, this year’s Cougar team actually improved offensively, despite the losses of Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto to the professional ranks a year early. Of course, what he fails to mention is that the WSU defense took a complete nose dive. They fell from 46th in the nation in defensive efficiency last year to 199th this year, propelled mainly by their inability to do anything particularly well on that end of the court; they’re in the bottom half of the nation in opponent’s effective field goal percentage and in forcing turnovers, while they’re not a whole lot better than that in hitting the defensive glass or keeping their opponents off of the free throw line.
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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 15

Posted by AMurawa on February 27th, 2012

Team of the Week

Washington – In coming back from what was a 13-point deficit with just 11 minutes left, the Huskies not only managed to pull off a season sweep of Apple Cup rival Washington State, they also, combined with California’s loss on Sunday, vaulted themselves into sole ownership of first place in the Pac-12. While their win over WSU certainly wasn’t a thing of beauty, the Huskies managed to gut one out, overcoming Terrence Ross’ foul trouble and ineffectiveness to put it away down the stretch. Despite shooting just 62.2% from the line for the season, the Huskies shot made 78.9% of their 19 second-half free throws, including 58%-free-throw-shooter Tony Wroten knocking down seven of his nine attempts in the second half. With a road trip to the Los Angeles schools the last remaining hurdle on the Husky schedule, it looks like it comes down to this: beat UCLA at the Sports Arena on Saturday and claim the regular season conference title.

Kyle Fogg, Arizona

Kyle Fogg Is Wrapping Up His Arizona Career With His Best Basketball Yet (Chris Morrison/US Presswire)

Player of the Week

Kyle Fogg, Senior, Arizona – Fogg has been rock-steady in his four seasons in Tucson, but with his career rapidly coming to a close, he has begun showing a newly developing personality: glass-eating double-double machine. After going 130 games as a Wildcat without once grabbing 10 or more rebounds, in the past four games Fogg has recorded two double-doubles, two near-misses with nine rebounds and has averaged 15.8 points and ten rebounds per game over that stretch. This week it was 18 points and 10.5 rebounds per night in helping to orchestrate a home-sweep of the Los Angeles schools and keeping the Wildcats in line for a opening-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. He came to Tucson as a Lute Olson recruit, but never played a minute for the icon whose health forced him to retirement. But over the years, Fogg has become a fixture in Tucson. When the Wildcats eventually open up the Pac-12 Tournament, Fogg will tie Jason Gardner for most games played in Arizona basketball history and he ranks in the top ten in the school’s list for minutes played and three-pointers.

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