Big Ten M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 31st, 2013

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  1. With the loss of Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State has a big scoring void to fill. Thomas averaged 19.8 points, which was nearly double that of the Buckeyes next leading scorer in Aaron Craft. Ohio State is hoping without just one scorer, though, everyone will get involved forcing opposing teams to guard everyone on the floor. Everyone already knows Craft will have to add some offense to his well-known defense, but LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams are the keys to the Buckeyes. If the team gets consistent scoring from all of those players, it will certainly cause opponents bigger headaches than last season when taking away Thomas meant shutting down Ohio State.
  2. Michigan State has plenty of strength returning to its starting lineup in Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne. There’s still one open spot, though, and it appears freshman forward Gavin Schilling is making his case to seize it. In the Spartans first exhibition, a 101-52 win against Grand Valley State, Schilling played the most minutes and scored four points with five rebounds coming off the bench behind sophomore Matt Costello. This position will be an important one to keep an eye on for Michigan State as it tries to make a national title run. The four returning starters already make them a strong team, but if Schilling can continue to prosper and make every position on the Spartans starting five strong, it only makes their chances for a national title better. If he doesn’t get into the starting lineup, it at least makes it a small drop-off if Schilling has to play minutes for Costello or Payne at the forward positions.
  3. There’s plenty of hope surrounding the Purdue basketball program following a disappointing campaign last year. A big key to that will be what the newcomers provide to the Boilermakers, one of which is 5th year transfer Errick Peck. The 6-foot-6, 223 pound forward was in the starting lineup for Purdue in its 80-73 exhibition win over University of Indianapolis last night as he scored five points, had six rebounds and even attempted a 3-pointer. This versatility is something that Matt Painter has noticed and hopes to utilize in the Cornell transfer this season. Peck will likely find himself getting plenty of minutes with AJ Hammons still serving his three-game suspension and could very well find himself playing all over the court for Purdue. His ability to play with his back to the basket or from the outside allows Painter to use a big lineup with Peck at the three alongside Jay Simpson and Hammons or smaller with Peck at the four.
  4. With Mitch McGary and other post players returning to Michigan, John Beilein has a decision coming up soon. According to MLive’s Brendan Quinn, the Wolverines coach will have to decide whether he wants to redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. The 6′ 9″ forward played just more than five minutes and scored three points in Michigan’s 117-44 exhibition win over Concordia, which was more than only the walk-ons. With fellow freshmen Zak Irvin and Derrik Walton, Jr. filling the roles left by Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., Donnal is the only freshman with plenty of upperclass experience ahead of him. Whether Beilein does redshirt Donnal or not is interesting because, as Quinn points out, Michigan only has 11 scholarship players this season. If he uses a redshirt, that makes the Wolverines very thin with only 10 total scholarship players.
  5. It’s always great to see when a head coach uses his position to help the greater good. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery has certainly done his best to help fight cancer after losing both his parents to colon cancer. Tuesday, McCaffery hosted his second annual Coaches vs. Cancer event where he was hoping to raise more than the $52,000 that was raised a year ago. It’s also given the coach a chance to touch a few people who have dealt with the deadly disease, including the one this story highlights in Wil Roling who joined Iowa on the team’s trip to Indiana last year. Now, Roling has had a going-away party from his hospital and was back at the Coaches vs. Cancer event, but this time he was healthy and playing with McCaffery’s two oldest sons. That’s something we can all celebrate.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.15.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 15th, 2013

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  1. The big news on Monday morning was the surpise firing of a Los Angeles area head basketball coach. Less than a month ago, the odds were probably on the rest of this paragraph being about the end of the Ben Howland era in Westwood, but instead, the “other” LA-area Pac-12 basketball program ended the Kevin O’Neill era abruptly. We posted our thoughts on the matter yesterday, but gave scant attention to USC’s new interim head coach, Bob Cantu, who has now outlasted three Trojan head coaches at the institution. Cantu said he plans to try to speed the game up a bit (but really, doesn’t every coach say that?), may opt for more zone defense, and will try to get USC’s two seven-footers (Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby) on the court together at the same time. In addition, he hopes to get transfers Ari Stewart and Renaldo Woolridge, a pair of guys who have been all but forgotten this season, some more run.
  2. Names like Jamie Dixon, Randy Bennett and Dan Monson seem to be the obvious lead choices for the next USC head coaching position, but plenty of other names have surfaced already, including one who is currently employed by another Pac-12 institution: Arizona State assistant Eric Musselman. Musselman, who has been a head coach in the NBA twice, is apparently interested in the job, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. But, the question is, just how far down the list is Musselman? And, as always, Reggie Theus is also on the list, at least, according to Theus, that is. And, how about a really deep cut? Former Laker and Lobo star Michael Cooper is presently the head women’s basketball coach at USC. Like I said, a seriously deep cut.
  3. Meanwhile, across town, Ben Howland has turned it around, getting his team back into the Top 25 riding a nine-game winning streak. David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times has a big feature on Howland that does a good job of slapping a human face on the often introverted coach. The article touches on his relationship with his players, his assistants, and, as always, UCLA fans. But perhaps most interesting is how Howland has made the change from playing the grind-it-out, defense-first style that has characterized his last decade-plus as a head coach, to the more transition-oriented team that has currently got those rather picky Bruin fans interested again.
  4. As for the team that USC just beat, Utah, head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s job is in no immediate danger, but in order to make sure it stays that way, and in order to make sure he has his team on the right track, he held one-on-one meetings with each player this week to ensure that both coach and player were both on the same page. The meetings are in an effort to let the players know what Krystkowiak needs them to work on and to hear back from the players any suggestions that they have for the coaching staff. With an 0-4 start featuring three hotly contested games now in the rear view mirror, the Utes hope to use these meetings as a springboard for future improvements.
  5. It’s about that time of the year where, for one reason or another, suspensions and other little punishments begin to crop up here and there around the nation, especially on teams that have had their struggles. We saw Eric Moreland get suspended last week (and it was announced today that he’ll return Saturday against USC, making it a three-game suspension in total), but we glossed over the fact that Stanford point guard Chasson Randle got a slap on the wrist for being late to a shootaround prior to the game against Washington, having to start the game on the bench. He still wound up earning 28 minutes (and scoring 16 effective points along the way), but it’s something to stick in the back of your mind, given Stanford’s early struggles.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.28.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 28th, 2012

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  1. After a quiet period surrounding Christmas, things pick back up again beginning tonight with a pair of games involving Pac-12 teams. The most high profile game is UCLA hosting Missouri in a chance to see whether the Bruins’ recent improvements on the offensive end are enough to have them ready to compete with very good teams. Missouri is coming off its most high profile win of the season, a nine-point win over Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game, but they have also handled Stanford and Virginia Commonwealth in a pair of quality wins in the Bahamas. The Tigers will be playing a bit shorthanded, though, as reserve forward Tony Criswell – he of 18 minutes, six points and five rebounds per game – will miss the game with a broken finger.
  2. Utah is the other Pac-12 team to break its Christmas fast and return to the court tonight, as they will host the College of Idaho, an NAIA school. While the Utes already have more wins this year than they earned all of last season, they still left quite a few on the table. Despite a 7-4 record, if the Utes had simply been able to hang on to three different second-half double-figure advantages, they could be 10-1 at this point. But with a young team that is still getting used to the idea of winning games, closing out victories is still a work in progress.
  3. Oregon State gets back in the swing of things on Saturday when they host Towson at Gill Coliseum. And in a cool bit of marketing for the program, the first 1,000 fans into the venue will get a free Alamo Bowl t-shirt and everyone is invited to stick around after the game and watch the football game (vs. Texas) as well as participate in an autograph session with OSU players and coaches. Way to take a simple, relatively unappealing basketball game for which the students will be out of town and turn it into a blockbuster day for Beaver fans to spend enjoying both of their big-time sports programs.
  4. Oregon got back from its Christmas break and resumed practice yesterday in advance of a meeting with Nevada on New Year’s Eve, and they are hoping to repeat last year’s improvement following their time off. Last year the Ducks got run over by Virginia then coasted through three uninspired wins over bad teams prior to Christmas break, before coming back and tearing through Washington State to kick off a strong conference run. Dana Altman recognizes that the parts are in place for the Ducks to again compete for a conference title, but he’ll have his team spending the next few practices working on offensive execution and defensive communication.
  5. It seems like all week we have had a little something about the big Arizona win over San Diego State on Christmas night, but for the most part we have focused on Nick Johnson’s highlight-reel blocked shot in the waning moments. Head coach Sean Miller notes that, while Johnson’s play was great, senior Kevin Parrom put a bow on the game by running down the loose ball after the block and making sure that the Aztecs were unable to get a second-shot opportunity. That, coupled with Parrom’s offensive contributions, made him a underrated key to Arizona’s Diamond Head Classic title, even though teammates like Johnson, Solomon Hill, and Mark Lyons may normally get more publicity.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.27.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 27th, 2012

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  1. Following their thrilling Christmas night win over San Diego State, Arizona is the talk of the college basketball world in this downtime before hoops picks back up again. Coming on the heels of their similarly enjoyable win over Florida, the win over the Aztecs puts the Wildcats in the driver’s seat for the meaningless title of “Best in the West” and NBC Sports’ Daniel Martin lays out the four best contenders. Arizona leads the pack, but Gonzaga and UNLV have their names in the mix as well, while SDSU, despite the razor-thin loss, needs to be considered among the contenders too. Notably (and understandably) missing are any other Pac-12 teams. The sad thing is that this is an improvement over last season where no Pac-12 team deserved to be in such a conversation at this point in the season.
  2. Elsewhere on the Arizona front, CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman wrote a great piece about how Sean Miller has taken that program from a team with questionable talent and turned it into a program that is on the move again. While the Derrick Williams-led run to the Elite Eight two seasons back was impressive, it was also just a fortunate blip on the radar for the ‘Cats. But, with this year’s talented recruiting class, future stars in the queue, and the program back near the level of national importance it regularly enjoyed under Lute Olson, odds are that Arizona is again going to be a regular fixture near the top of the national rankings for years to come.
  3. The Wildcats aren’t the only team in the Grand Canyon State that has its fans excited for the future. Arizona State, after a couple years lost in the basketball wilderness, is back on the map again behind freshman point guard Jahii Carson (who saluted himself as the best point guard in the Pac-12 on Christmas night) and Sun Devil fans are ready to be optimistic again about the direction of the program. As Ben Haber at House of Sparky points out, even if this team’s 10-2 record is built on the back of a somewhat weak schedule, the mere fact that the Sun Devils are an entertaining team to watch (and, yeah, let’s be honest, wins help too) is a significant upgrade over the past two seasons.
  4. As the non-conference seasons winds down, the number of interesting games on the slate begins to dwindle. We have Missouri and UCLA tomorrow night, and then on Saturday a couple of interesting East-West match-ups as Harvard visits California and Washington heads out to visit Connecticut. The latter match-up between a couple of groups of Huskies is an inter-regional rivalry with plenty of history behind it. And, for the UW folks, memories of those match-ups aren’t pleasant — the history includes Rip Hamilton’s buzzer-beater in 1998 and a 2006 Sweet Sixteen overtime game that again sent Washington home in crushing fashion. The first one hurt Lorenzo Romar just because of his status as a fan and an alum of UW, but the latter goes down as Romar’s toughest loss.
  5. Lastly, it is about that time where we begin to look full-bore at conference play, reassess where we were oh-so-wrong in the preseason, celebrate our few moments of clarity and come up with a whole new batch of guesses for the rest of the year. We’ll delve into that plenty early next week, but The Register-Guard already has its team-by-team Pac-12 preview ready to digest. Arizona’s clearly the favorite, but beyond that, I’d say the surprises are Oregon at #5 (too low), Washington at #6 (too high) and USC at #10 (the Trojans still play basketball?).
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Pac-12 M5: 12.26.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 26th, 2012

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  1. Saint Nick came through in a big way on Christmas night for Arizona, as sophomore guard Nick Johnson swatted away a potentially game-winning layup attempt by San Diego State’s Chase Tapley to preserve the Wildcats’ perfect season and earn the Diamond Head Classic title. While the first half was stodgy and slow, the two teams lived up to expectations in the second half and delivered a terrific performance. Once again, it was seniors who led UA, this time Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom doing the job as Mark Lyons never really got into a groove, hampered by foul trouble, turnovers and erratic shooting. And then there was, of course, Johnson, who struggled shooting the ball but was terrific defensively, and helped out initiating the offense and made the athletic play in the waning moments to seal the game.
  2. Former Arizona star Miles Simon, who won the Most Outstanding Player in the Wildcats\’ 1997 run to Lute Olson’s sole NCAA Championship, worked the Diamond Head Classic as the color man for ESPN. And, despite the fact that UA’s backcourt may not match up with the traditional ideal of true point and scoring off-guard, Simon is impressed with the duo of Lyons and Johnson. He sees the duo as complementary parts with Johnson capable of helping Lyons out with some areas (initiating offense and getting other players involved) that he is weaker in. I would add that their ability to have Hill also share some of the ball-handling load means that, even without the proverbial “traditional” point, Arizona’s guard play is not a significant concern.
  3. UCLA’s Tony Parker has been a little-used piece for Ben Howland, averaging under nine minutes a game despite his team’s lack of depth along the frontcourt. Following another eight-minute appearance against Fresno State, he tweeted out “A lot of told me this wasn’t for me I wish I would’ve listened.\” Given Howland’s recent issues with players transferring out of his program, this tweet and other recent tweets from Parker referencing homesickness indicate that he may not be long for the Bruin program as well. And, of course, Bruins Nation took this as a chance to rip Howland again. The other side of the coin is that Parker missed time early due to injury and has been inconsistent in the minutes he has received, playing ineffectively on the boards, fouling at far too high of a rate and getting lost defensively, and this type of complaining public message probably does nothing to help him earn more playing time. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, as Howland likely should have found some more minutes against UCLA’s weaker competition, but the fact of the matter is, Parker hasn’t done a whole lot to earn those minutes yet.
  4. Tying up one loose end, Oregon State’s Eric Moreland earned the official Pac-12 Player of the Week honor for his pair of double-doubles and 17-point and 11.5-rebound average last week. We opted for Jordan Adams as our pick (and oddly enough, neither Adams nor any other Bruin was even nominated by the school for the award), but Moreland was certainly a worthy recipient as well. Always known for his defensive ability, Moreland has shown a significantly improved offensive game this season. Where last year he was little more than a garbage man on offense, he’s added the ability to beat his man off the bounce, his jumper is significantly improved and he’s converting shots around the lane at a high rate, all while continuing to defend and rebound like a madman.
  5. And lastly, back to UCLA. As some Bruin fans continue to root for Ben Howland’s ouster as head coach, Bruins Nation put together a post with some of the great moments in his time in Westwood. Worth a look for hoops fans, but sure makes you remember just how good UCLA was going just a few years back. Could you have imagined after Howland’s third straight trip to the Final Four that he would be on the chopping block inside of five years, minus any type of serious NCAA investigation into improprieties in his program? Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.10.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 10th, 2012

  1. Following this first weekend where the college basketball didn’t pale in comparison to the college football schedule, we start our week not recounting some of the action on the court, but rather action on a picket line. On Saturday, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (now there’s a phrase I never expected to type out for the Pac-12 Morning Five) declared a strike against the Pac-12 Network and set up picket lines at USC, Arizona State, Oregon State, Oregon and Washington for those days’ games. The IATSE complaint centers on the fact that the Pac-12 Network has, in some markets, used non-union crews, and that employees on those crews don’t receive the benefits that union employees receive, such as higher wages, benefits and other protections. The Pac-12 issued a statement in response saying that it “respects an individual’s right to decide whether to be represented by a union” and not a whole lot else. Coupled with the conference’s impasse with DirecTV over carriage of their network, this is another bump in the road for the fledgling network. But, I gotta admit, the Pac-12 Networks are really cool. Just for instance, on Saturday you could have turned on the Pac-12 at 11 AM for Cal State Northridge and Arizona State and watched basketball straight through until the USC/Minnesota game wrapped up around 9:30 PM. And, something similar is on tap for next week.
  2. On to actual on-court action, brave basketball fans who showed up at Reliant Stadium for UCLA and Texas may have reason to go on strike against the sport after the two huge programs put on a horrendous display of basketball in front of a largely empty stadium. As Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports writes, the game may have set the record for most empty seats at a basketball game. The game was played at the home of the NFL’s Houston Texans and was capable of fitting some 43,000 fans. Let’s just say that the announced attendance (which was apparently an imaginary figure) missed that mark by somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 people. Why this game was scheduled at that location, I’ll never be sure. There was certainly no chance in hell that, even if UCLA had been playing well, the Bruins were going to bring any significant number of fans to Houston. And Texas, well, you guys know you do have a perfectly good Erwin Center that, even with its 16,000-some capacity would likely not have been filled for this game. As for the game itself, well, let’s just say Texas missed two point-blank layups on breakaways and neither of those likely qualify as the low point in this game.
  3. From one monstrosity to another, for those of you who maybe thought that Washington getting back the services of Scott Suggs and Shawn Kemp Jr. would help turn this team’s season around, consider Saturday night’s loss at home to Nevada the cold water to the face to dissuade you of that illusion. The Huskies have now lost three home games to increasingly bad competition and, while Lorenzo Romar isn’t about to let his team give up, this looks to be headed to a lost season that will put 2007-08’s 16-17 campaign to shame. There were some extenuating circumstances Saturday night, as Abdul Gaddy was abused regularly by Nevada’s Deonte Burton early in the game and picked up three early fouls on a night when Andrew Andrews was out with injury, leaving the Huskies without a true point guard for 10 minutes, but that’s mere explanation rather than excuse. The schedule eases up significantly between here and a December 29 date with Connecticut, but this group is far away from congealing into a quality basketball team.
  4. After knocking off Boise State last week, Utah had a great chance on Saturday night to not only exceed last year’s win total, but also knock off in-state rival BYU to seal up a phenomenal week for the program. At the under-eight timeout, the Utes had a six-point lead, the Marriott Center was quiet and Utah looked to have the Cougars right where they wanted them. But then a pair of Matt Carlino threes and a Craig Cusick three as a chaser brought things back to reality. The Utes wound up scoring just one field goal in the game’s last 11 minutes, turned the ball over seven times and let a very winnable game slip away. But if you take a step back and look at the season as a whole, especially in contrast with last year, it is clear that progress is being made.
  5. Around the college basketball world, we’re into the dreaded time known as Finals Week, where the number of watchable games dwindles to a trickle. But, in the state of Oregon, both Pac-12 schools have wrapped up their exams and are ready to focus on basketball. Oregon’s finals were last week and they celebrated their first day of winter break with a demolition of Idaho State. But, rather than pick up on a whirlwind of cross-country travel in search of games, the Ducks will hunker down for a week, try to clean up some of the mistakes that Dana Altman has seen and prepare for next Saturday’s game against Nebraska. Meanwhile, Oregon State is on slightly different schedule. Having wrapped up their finals, the Beavers crushed Grambling State on Saturday in a game that was drastically different than its first game back from finals last year. But up next for OSU, rather than spend a week practicing in Corvallis, they’ll head up north to face Portland State on Wednesday night.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 7th, 2012

  1. Gonzaga’s last second win over Washington State on Wednesday night goes down as one of the best games of the young season so far, and while Ken Bone and the Cougars aren’t big on the concept of the moral victory against a bitter rival, there are some good things they can take away from that game. First and foremost, their stars stepped up in a big way. Brock Motum and DaVonte Lacy combined for five threes in a four-and-a-half minute stretch to bring the Cougs back from an 11-point deficit to tie the game and set up the final scramble. And if WSU has any plans to turn around a slow start to the year, it will need to be on the backs of those two. The other big thing is that, while this team will be without a traditional point guard the whole year, Bone seems to have cobbled together a workable solution. Mike Ladd seems to do most of the play-making in the halfcourt set, but guys like Royce Woolridge, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Lacy have all pitched in and assembled a good point-guard-by-committee group that is doing an excellent job limiting turnovers and getting WSU into their sets. It was bumpy at the start of the year, but the Gonzaga loss proved to me, at least, that the situation is workable.
  2. Meanwhile, Utah, another team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference, was able to come up with its best performance of the year in blowing out Boise State. On a night when the Utes honored former head coach Rick Majerus prior to the game, Utah center Jason Washburn said “we felt like Coach Majerus was with us all night; he was right on the bench with us, smiling down.”  Washburn went 6-of-6 from the field to pace an incredibly hot shooting night for the Utes, in which they shot a ridiculous 78.8% eFG. Block U calls the win the best by the program in the last four years, and, although I could nitpick, it is being taken as a sign by the Ute faithful that Larry Krystkowiak has got this ship headed in the right direction.
  3. We’ve talked a lot about Mark Lyons over the last few days, and Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News has his own take on his transition to the point, which includes the unconvincing argument of “hey, they’re beating a lot of bad teams by a lot of points!” But, DeCourcy does make the point that Lyons is never really the sole ballhandler on the floor for Arizona and that Sean Miller is quite pleased with Lyons’ production. I would maybe go even one step further and say that, while Lyons is the closest thing to a point guard on the team, very rarely is he tasked with being the initiator of the halfcourt offense, a role that just as often falls to either Solomon Hill or Nick Johnson. Lyons may spend a bit more time with the ball in his hands this year than he did last year playing with Tu Holloway at Xavier, but really, Miller hasn’t exactly tried to rebuild Lyons from the ground up.
  4. Even with UCLA’s struggles out of the gate, Shabazz Muhammad still thinks his team is going to make an impact in the Pac-12 this season, even if it has been relegated to sleeper status by their early losses. He told the Petros and Money show on Fox Radio on Wednesday how he feels about the rest of the season. But, the big takeaway from Muhammad’s comments (other than the overwhelming use of the word “really”) may be that Ben Howland has “become a players’ coach.” Muhammad ties that comment to the change that encourages the team to get out in transition more, and it is true that UCLA’s averaging about three more possessions per game this year than last, but certainly Howland is still trying to figure out the sweet spots on both ends of the floor for this team.
  5. Another team that has earned the title “sleeper team” in the Pac-12 is Oregon, off to a 7-1 start behind the production of an all-freshman backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. While senior leader E.J. Singler is quick to praise his younger players, Dana Altman, ever the coach, sees the need for better consistency and better shot selection out of the backcourt duo. Still, he sees them as key cogs in the long-term plans for the Ducks. And, an already deep and talented team expects to get even deeper and more talented, when freshman Arik Armstead is expected to join the team in January. Armstead, a defensive tackle for the Ducks football team, won’t join the team until after Oregon’s appearance in the Fiesta Bowl (January 3 against Kansas State) and it’ll take some time for him to get into basketball shape and learn the ins and outs of the teams’ sets, but he’s been spending a bit of time working with team managers. Just how much of an impact he’ll have is unknown, especially with a now deep Ducks big man rotation, but you can never have too much talent, can you?
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Pac-12 M5: 12.06.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 6th, 2012

  1. In recent days, we’ve seen a lot of talk about how Mark Lyons at Arizona has struggled a bit in his transition to playing the point, all this despite lights-out shooting and an undefeated record. But Tuesday night at the McKale Center, Lyons’ shot betrayed him in the midst of his first unquestionably bad game with the Wildcats and, as Greg Hansen reports, some in the crowd lost patience with their new senior in the midst of his oh-fer night. But, as Hansen notes, it isn’t as if Lyons’ lone role as the team’s point guard is to make spectacular passes to teammates for easy looks. Lyons ability to be a scoring threat earned open looks for his teammates. For example, Nick Johnson took advantage of the attention paid to Lyons by the defense to score 23 points, then afterwards he had Lyons’ back, praising his defense and leadership. Still, this was a good win over a halfway decent Southern Miss team, but the 27 turnovers that the ‘Cats endured (certainly not all Lyons’ fault – he had just three turnovers in 29 minutes) are not exactly a great sign as UA’s competition jumps up a notch.
  2. UCLA had a somewhat random exhibition game on Tuesday night against Cal State San Marcos as a result of wanting to open the new Pauley Pavilion with a game that would actually count in the standings, but it turned out to be a pretty well-placed game. It gave the Bruins a chance to work on their newly unveiled zone def… err, what’s that? They played man-to-man defense the whole game? You’re kidding me. What’s more, head coach Ben Howland asked the opposing coach to play man defense against them the whole game, and CSSM’s head coach Jim Saia complied. Now, I’ll certainly admit that the Bruins could use some work on their man defense, but I would guess that all of these current Bruins have played plenty of man defense in their lives, but not a ton of zone. And given that UCLA has shown a drastic inability to guard opponents in a man-on-man setting, I just sort of assumed that the Bruins would be working on that zone that they probably have to play a lot of in the future. And, while UCLA certainly hasn’t been excellent offensively against man defense, they’ve been downright awful against the zone, but for some reason Howland wanted to work on their man offense. And, to make matters worse, by all accounts UCLA didn’t even look that good playing against CSSM. They turned the ball over offensively, they couldn’t stop CSSM players from getting in the lane, and they beat an overmatched team by only 23 points in a game that was closer than the final score.
  3. Last year, Arizona State earned its seventh win of the season on January 28. Last night they got to 7-1 on December 5 with a win over Hartford. And, as the Hoops Report writes, Herb Sendek and his team have put themselves on track to return to the postseason for the first time since 2010. But, while wins over the likes of Central Arkansas, Cornell and Arkansas-Pine Bluff are certainly better than losses to those teams, the sole “good” win in their non-conference slate will be their Thanksgiving week win over Arkansas, a team currently with a sub-100 RPI. And, the best remaining game on their non-conference slate is DePaul, so if ASU has any hopes of getting to the Big Dance, rather than one of those little ones, they’ll need to make a major splash in conference play, something they’ve failed to do recently to the tune of a 10-26 conference record over the past two seasons.
  4. On Tuesday, Spencer Dinwiddie took a little shot at Colorado’s Wednesday-night opponent, referring to Colorado State as “little brother” and expressing some irritation over CSU’s rushing of the court following last year’s win. Last night, Dinwiddie backed up his talk by showing “little brother” he meant business. The sophomore guard scored a career-high 29 points in front of an overflow crowd at the Coors Event Center in Boulder. Dinwiddie backtracked a bit from his comments following the game, saying that he “didn’t mean it in a disrespectful way,” but he also took joy in being able to “back up the comment with a win.” More importantly, come March 17 (aka Selection Sunday), expect CU’s win over their in-state rival to be a solid notch in their bedpost.
  5. Washington has a bit of a break this week, taking a breather from competition in advance of its Saturday game with Nevada, but sophomore Desmond Simmons has earned the praise of his head coach. Lorenzo Romar described Simmons’ performance on Sunday against Cal State Fullerton as “Brockman-esque,” referring to former Husky great and all-time rebounding leader, Jon Brockman. Simmons posted career highs in points and rebounds (14/18, respectively) in that game, and in the process became the only Husky aside from Brockman to grab that many rebounds in Romar’s time in Seattle. Given that UW’s frontcourt, other than center Aziz N’Diaye, has struggled to control the glass, Simmons’ explosion was well-timed. While Simmons is still coming off the bench for Romar, the head coach made it clear following the CSUF game that it isn’t because of anything that Simmons is doing wrong, but rather a result of him bringing great energy off of the bench. With Shawn Kemp Jr. nearing a return from his knee injury, it is possible that the UW big men, which had been considered a weakness as recently as a week ago, could turn into a strength by the time conference play rolls around.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.05.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 5th, 2012

  1. Tonight, prior to its game against Boise State, Utah will pause to commemorate the life of former head coach Rick Majerus, who died on Saturday night of heart failure. The university will observe a moment of silence, then they’ll show a video in the Huntsman Center celebrating Majerus’ time in Utah and the team will wear black patches on their uniforms for the remainder of the season. Later in the year, they’ll raise a replica of the white sweater that Majerus wore during his time there. The athletic department had tried to work out a time to have a ceremony for Majerus last season, while he was still a head coach at Saint Louis, but the two parties could never find a suitable time. Lastly, while there have been a lot of great remembrances of the coaching legend in recent days, it goes without saying that Utah fans, where Majerus enjoyed his greatest success, had a good perspective on the man, and Block U in particular laid down another in a long line of touching tributes.
  2. And speaking of the game against Boise State, that contest kicks off a big week for Utah, as they’ll also travel to face BYU on Saturday. Both games mark significant upgrades in terms of competition for the Utes, and they represent the clear high water mark of the non-conference schedule. Ken Pomeroy gives Utah a 17% chance of knocking off the Broncos and an 8% chance of winning in Provo, but more important to the program may not be the focus on earning any Ws this week, but playing up to their potential and showing improvement from last week’s split of a two-game road-trip to Texas to face SMU (a seven-point loss) and Texas State (a five-point win).
  3. On Monday, we handed out our Pac-12 Player of the Week award to C.J. Wilcox of Washington, but the official POTW award went to Arizona State’s Carrick Felix, who averaged 21 points, nine boards, nearly five assists and a couple of blocks in a pair of wins for the Sun Devils. He was the first ASU player to earn the honor since Ty Abbott won it in March 2011. After a bumpy first couple of seasons in Tempe marked by great athleticism but poor shooting, Felix has dialed in his long-range jumper in a big way this season, hitting nearly two threes a game at a 44.4% clip. As Doug Haller reports, head coach Herb Sendek attributes Felix’s improvement to perseverance and “habits of excellence” as well as understanding his strengths and being comfortable with who he is on the basketball court. Throw in the fact that Felix, a senior now, is surrounded by the most talent he’s seen in his time at ASU and there’s a good chance this run at the start of the year is not just a fluke, but the new normal.
  4. Washington has been without the services of Scott Suggs since before Thanksgiving, and they’ve been without Shawn Kemp Jr. for the entire year. But, both are nearing their returns, and if they can get through practices on Thursday and Friday without any adverse affects (a big if), they will be ready to play on Saturday against Nevada. Kemp tore a patellar tendon in his right knee back in October, and even if he is available for Saturday’s game, it will likely be for limited minutes. Suggs, who has been struggling with plantar fasciitis, is a better bet to play on Saturday, but head coach Lorenzo Romar warns that Suggs’ injury is one that could linger throughout the season.
  5. Finally, Scott Gleeson of the USA Today asked the question yesterday, is the Mountain West better than the Pac-12? Gleeson came up with the right answer, which is, “of course!” And he could have gone a step further with, “and it has been for at least three years now.” But despite three MW teams in the Top 25 compared to just one for the Pac-12 and a current 4-2 advantage on the season, we’ll get a clearer answer to the question this week as we’ll see five different match-ups between the two conferences. We already mentioned the Utah/Boise State game tonight, but there are a pair of other contests between the conferences tonight, as Colorado State visits Colorado and USC visits New Mexico. Then, over the weekend, we’ll see a couple more games, with Nevada traveling to Washington on Saturday and UNLV visiting California. And, there will be at least three other match-ups (and potentially a San Diego State/Arizona Christmas present in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic) between the conferences prior to the start of 2013, giving a large enough sample to declare a winner in the unofficial Pac-12/Mountain West Challenge. My guess on the final tally? The Pac-12 finishes strong and pulls out a 9-6 record in the long run, with Colorado getting back on track tonight against Colorado State and California scoring a key win over UNLV on Sunday.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.03.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 3rd, 2012

  1. All things considered, it was a severely disappointing weekend for Pac-12 basketball, so let’s jump right into the week with the depressing news early and head to some better news towards the back end of the Morning Five. The most high-profile loss of the weekend for the conference was likely UCLA’s loss at the John Wooden Classic to San Diego State, a loss in which UCLA clearly abdicated the crown of California’s golden jewel of basketball programs to the Aztecs (if it hadn’t been abdicated earlier). And, in the wake of their early season struggles, Peter Yoon of ESPN.com puts the obvious into words: it is time to reassess this Bruin team, and the reassessment is not likely to be pretty. Yeah, there is certainly still talent here, but at this moment in time, a team that is starting three freshmen simply doesn’t have the experience yet to match up with a talented veteran squad like the Aztecs. There is still hope that a corner will be turned, but as Ben Howland put it after the game “there’s a lot of learning still that we’re doing.”
  2. At about the same time that UCLA was losing to the Aztecs, another Mountain West team was disposing of a highly regarded Pac-12 team, as Leonard Washington led Wyoming to a seven-point victory over Colorado. After the game, Tad Boyle laid the cards right on the table, pointing to CU’s turnovers and defensive struggles as the reasons for the loss. And he called out his team for its lack of cohesion, calling for players to accept their roles and play as a collective rather than a group of individuals. Really, when all is said and done, this loss may be a net positive for the team. As a young team, they’ve had some good success early in the season, but this being their first true road game, and one against a hard-nosed team, it is somewhat understandable that they didn’t bring their best. Look for Boyle to use this game as a lesson for his team as it heads into tougher games down the line. For the Buffaloes to again make their way through the minefield of Pac-12 road games, they’ll need to display a mental toughness that was severely lacking on Saturday night.
  3. And, speaking of a lack of mental toughness, California went into Madison yesterday and got absolutely drilled by Wisconsin, losing by 25 in a game in which they turned the ball over 23 times. Head coach Mike Montgomery blamed the loss on a poor week of practice, saying that “some of our guys just don’t prepare themselves for practice the way they should.” Like Colorado, Cal has had plenty of early season success, and a well-placed road game on the heels of all that success was a recipe for disaster. Allen Crabbe agreed with his coach, saying “we basically got what we deserved.” With visits from UNLV and Creighton due up next on the Golden Bears’ schedule, things aren’t going to get much easier, but at least Montgomery can use this loss as a wake-up call and he knows he’ll have those next two games in the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion.
  4. Okay, enough negativity, but we’ve got to transition from negativity to positivity slowly. So, we’ll mention that although Arizona kept alive its perfect record by going on the road and dispatching of Texas Tech, head coach Sean Miller still has some concerns about Mark Lyons as his lead guard. While Lyons leads the team in scoring with 14 points per night, he’s turning the ball over at a rate that far eclipses his ability to hand out assists to his teammates. But, Miller points out that although those turnovers are cause for concern, the coaching staff is addressing those concerns and that they’ve thus far found Lyons to be “a willing learner.” And, in the shadow of some of Lyons’ struggles, sophomore Nick Johnson has stepped into more of a lead-guard type of role and has handed out 13 assists against just one turnover in the past three games.
  5. And, to send you into the rest of your Monday will some full-fledged good news, Arizona State’s Evan Gordon broke out of a season-long slump in a big way on Saturday night, drilling five three-pointers in nine attempts (after hitting just 20.6% of his shots from deep in the team’s first six games) on his way to 29 points in the Sun Devils’ 20-point win over Sacramento State. Coming into the year, Gordon was expected to be a lights-out shooter on the wing, especially opposite penetrating point Jahii Carson, but his shot simply wasn’t falling early. For ASU to continue their winning ways, especially once they get to conference play, they’ll need Gordon to be a scorer for them on the wing, so while the early struggles with the shot can be discounted somewhat, it is comforting to see his shots begin to fall.
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Pac-12 M5: 11.19.12 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on November 19th, 2012

  1. Last year, the Pac-12 didn’t have a win over a ranked opponent all year. This past weekend, the Colorado Buffaloes managed to get that victory for the Pac-12 very early in the season. The Buffaloes beat the No. 16 Baylor Bears in the Charleston Classic before taking down the Murray State Racers in the final yesterday. Colorado’s Charleston Classic Title is the first step in proving that the Pac-12 is back, but also a step in the continued evolution of the Colorado program. They were able to beat Dayton, Baylor, and Murray State in the tournament, which will bode well for them come Selection Sunday when the committee is evaluating whether they should be in the field of 68. Sophomore guard Askia Booker was named the tournament’s most outstanding player after pouring in 58 points over the course of the weekend, leading his team in scoring in each game.
  2. What won’t help the Pac-12 is what Stanford did last night, losing a home non-conference game to the Belmont Bruins. Belmont is an experienced team that has gone 57-13 over the last two seasons, but this was supposed to be a win for Stanford in that it was played at Maples Pavillion. But, Dwight Powell got into foul trouble and the team continued to struggle from deep, hitting just two-of-19 three-pointers over the course of the night, making the Cardinal a miserable eight-of-50 from deep in their last three games. And things aren’t going to get any easier as the team heads to the Bahamas this week to take part in the Battle 4 Atlantis, with their opening game coming against Missouri. This was supposed to be Stanford’s year to return itself back to the top of the Pac-12 and losing at home non-conference game to a mid-major doesn’t help Johnny Dawkins. These are the type of games Dawkins needs to win to prove he is the right long-term coach for the Cardinal.
  3. UCLA‘s highly touted freshman Shabazz Muhammad will finally see his first action tonight in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Bruins looked sharp in their last game against James Madison, as they won 100-70 but will now face their toughest opponent this year, the Georgetown Hoyas. Muhammad should start in this game, but it will be interesting to see how he fares on the court and how many minutes he’ll get with freshman Jordan Adams and sophomore Norman Powell also looking for time. However, with Muhammad now fully back, the Bruins are a much better team and if they beat Georgetown, the final of the Classic on Tuesday night could represent a potential NCAA title game preview in setting the Bruins up against the #1 Indiana Hoosiers.
  4. Although the Oregon State Beavers were able to beat the Purdue Boilermakers 66-58 Friday night in the 2k Sports Classic, they were unable to play with Angus Brandt for the entire game as he injured his knee during the second half . He was unable to walk off the court without help and word came down yesterday that his injury would keep him out for the rest of the year. Brandt was averaging 11.3 PPG and 8.5 RPG this season after he was able to provide 9.1 PPG and 3.4 RPG last year for the Beavers. Craig Robinson’s team will sorely miss Brandt and his presence as it’s hard to replace a big man of Brandt’s size and skill, but at least the Beavers have big guys Devon Collier, Eric Moreland and Joe Burton ready to pick up the slack in Brandt’s absence. Expect Collier to regain the starting spot he had last season after exploding for a career-high 27 points and 14 boards in the third-place 2kSports game in New York.
  5. Top ten recruit Aaron Gordon cut his list of schools down to three this past weekend, including a pair of Pac-12 schools, Washington and Arizona. However, the other school in Gordon’s three is Kentucky and it’s hard to bet against John Calipari when he wants a recruit. Still, with Aaron Gordon having ties to the West Coast, there’s a good chance he could end up in Seattle or Tucson. Scouts say Gordon has an NBA future and if Gordon were to land in the Pac-12, it would be great for the conference to continue its attempt of getting back to being a dominant conference in college basketball.
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Pac-12 M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 9th, 2012

  1. We hit the big news yesterday about Omar Oraby being declared eligible yesterday for USC, but now Oregon has to sit back and wait for news on its own Rice big man, Arsalan Kazemi, who transferred out of Rice and to Oregon for reasons similar as Oraby. The common perception is that if Oraby got freed, then Kazemi must be next, but that is little comfort for the Ducks who face the prospect of opening their season tomorrow night without his services. Certainly, Oregon should be able to handle the likes of Northern Arizona and Portland State as they stand now, but the Ducks would sure like to have Kazemi in uniform a week from today when they host a young but talented Vanderbilt squad. With him in tow, the Ducks have a seriously strong frontcourt that could make a splash near the top of the conference standings.
  2. An important correction for a recent bit of misinformation. On Wednesday morning we relayed the Los Angeles Times’ info that Shabazz Muhammad, were he healthy, would be able to participate in UCLA’s opener since it was within the 45-day window for him to participate with the team. Actually, that’s not quite right. The 45-day window allows Muhammad to participate in practices, but he won’t be eligible to compete in games until officially cleared by the NCAA, a timeline of which is still unknown. So, as it stands, the Bruins will open their season and their new-look Pauley Pavilion tonight against Indiana State, the only other school of which John Wooden held the head coaching job.
  3. Speaking of Wooden, the Wooden Award Watch List was unveiled on Thursday and four different Pac-12 student-athletes earned recognition: Colorado’s Andre Roberson, California’s Allen Crabbe, Arizona’s Solomon Hill and Washington State’s Brock Motum. Of the four, Roberson is the one with the best chance of earning the individual honor, although Hill’s team is expected to have greater success. Still, Hill’s game is more of a below-the-radar game and, with guys like Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson expected to shoulder much of the scoring load, it’s unlikely he will put up the individual statistics necessary to shoulder the load. Speaking of Lyons, transfers and freshmen are ineligible for inclusion on the Preseason Top 50 list, which is why players like he, Shabazz Muhammad, and Kyle Anderson, to name just a few, are not listed.
  4. Our last bit of news for the morning is that a legacy, Kameron Rooks, son of former Arizona center and long-time NBA big man Sean Rooks, was offered a scholarship by Arizona. The younger Rooks is a seven-footer just like his old man, who possesses enough talent to have received similar offers from Washington, Arizona State, and Oregon State. Like his father, Kameron has a massive body, long arms, and is a back-to-the-basket scorer. Still, at 275 pounds, his conditioning will always be a concern and he is regarded as still a work in progress. He’s currently a senior in high school and is listed as a three-star recruit.
  5. Another week, another chance for me to rub in the fact that I am absolutely killing Connor in our weekly football pick ‘em contest. I took a three-game lead into last week’s picks and, behind UCLA’s drubbing of Arizona at the Rose Bowl, extended it up to four. But I ain’t about to pull a Phil Ford and drop back into the Four Corners here to run some clock. Nope. Even though Connor sent me his picks first, I’m confident enough to put half of that four-game lead on the line this week. And, assuming I don’t completely overdose on hoops action Friday night, I’m looking forward to another great Saturday (although not quite as great as last Saturday) of college football action. Our picks below, with, as always, our game of the week in bold.
Game Connor’s Pick Drew’s Pick
Colorado at Arizona Arizona Arizona
Utah at Washington Utah Washington
Arizona State at USC USC USC
Oregon at California Oregon Oregon
Oregon State at Stanford Stanford 26-23 Oregon State 17-16
UCLA at Washington State UCLA UCLA
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