Pac-12 Senior Days: UCLA’s Norman Powell

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

I sat down to write a post about Norman Powell and had no idea what to say. After 10 minutes of staring at a blank Word document, I started to think about taking the easy way out and just throwing a bunch of links to videos and Vines of Powell attacking the rim and finishing in a variety of spellbinding ways. But that would be taking the easy way out, something Powell never did in his four years at UCLA. So instead of getting to spend a few minutes geeking out on dunks and twisting, merry-go-round finishes, you’ve got to read my blather for a few hundred words. And you’ve got Powell to thank for that.

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA's Heart and Soul For Four Years (Associated Press)

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA’s Heart and Soul For Four Years. (Associated Press)

Think back on your favorite Bruins in the past decade or so, whether you count yourself as a UCLA fan or just a fan of college basketball. Guys like Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are the names that likely come to mind. One thing all those players have in common is that none ever saw their own Senior Day. Now, let’s be clear; I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But there is something special about a senior’s growth that occurs over four years — about the dedication and drive you need to begin something as difficult as being a student-athlete and seeing it through to the very end. And there is something special about seeing a guy like Powell come down the stretch and lift his game to a higher level in pursuit of righteously closing out that career.

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Marching to Vegas: Keep Watching

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on February 11th, 2015

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

I suppose it’s not a comfort that’s befallen me so much as an acceptance. I first recognized the Pac-12’s general ineptitude as I found myself unaware of game schedules, player success (or otherwise) and disinterest in the whole thing. Let’s also be serious that I was still paying attention. Close attention. And I still want to. After all, we’re not at 2012 levels where just three players wound up drafted and Jorge Gutierrez was the conference Player of the Year. Washington was not invited to dance despite winning the regular season title. This is a story lead that could last forever. Alas, we’re not there but we have the excuse to excuse the rest of this season. It’s more than likely that your team is fighting for a three lettered tournament, at best. What’s there to support? What’s there to watch? The Pac-12 has hosted the highest percentage of in-conference blowouts. Where’s the intrigue? Let me tell you.

Pac-12 Basketball: It's Grrr-... Well, It's Okay.

Pac-12 Basketball: It’s Grrr-… Well, It’s Okay.

Now let’s preface this by saying that I don’t love the format of this column. I generally prefer to tell a story with words and numbers. But I also don’t like to watch middling college basketball teams in the Conference of Champions so I’m cool with it. A list it is. Six reasons to continue watching Pac-12 basketball in 2015:

1. Byes. Not Byes as in “saying goodbye to the 2015 season,” but rather, who among the muck will rise to finish in the third and fourth slots? The top-four seeds receive a Wednesday bye in Las Vegas. Have you ever tried to stay four nights in Vegas? Near impossible. You want the bye. So who’s in the running? The primary candidates are Oregon and Stanford (we’re ignoring Arizona and Utah, as they’re essentially locked in). The Ducks collected a big last-second win on Wednesday, improving to 6-4 in conference play. The rest of their schedule is road heavy but doesn’t include any more games against Arizona and they’ll host Utah. The team ahead of Oregon in the standings, Stanford, had seemed to be a lock to finish in the top three, but after a loss to Washington State I’m not so sure. Oh, then they lost at home to UCLA, a team which is now knocking on the bye door. This is usually the part where we note the wildcard teams, but then I’d be laying out a power rankings of unpowerful teams. Right now, there is a four-way tie for third. In all honesty, keep an eye on Arizona State and ignore USC.

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Building a Football Team From Pac-12 Basketball Players

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 2015

Yesterday was the day that college basketball paused one last time to make way for its college football friends. From here on out, college hoops has the right of way on the amateur level. With Oregon representing our proud conference despite the loss, we figured today would be a good time to tie college football and basketball together in a fun way by piecing together an imaginary football team made up entirely of current Pac-12 basketball players. This team would probably be pretty good, so let’s get right to it.

Offense

  • QB: Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington – If there was such a thing as a pocket passer in basketball, Williams-Goss would be it. We’ll get him out on the edge every now and then to make some plays, but we want our quarterback to hang tight and deliver the ball to our play-makers.
Let's Trade In Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on The Floor For Just A Plain, Old QB (Getty Images)

Let’s Trade in Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on the Floor For Just a Plain Old QB (Getty Images)

  • RB: Chasson Randle, Stanford – He’s got speed, quickness and power. We can dump the ball to him out of the backfield or let him pound ahead into the line.
  • RB: Malcolm Duviver, Oregon State – The first time I saw this guy I thought he looked more like a tailback than a point guard. At 6’2”, 205, he can be our workhorse back.
  • WR: Stanley Johnson, Arizona – Man, there are so many places we could play Johnson but we’re envisioning him as our Megatron. He’s got speed and great hands, and once he makes the catch, good luck bringing him down.

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Separating Fact From Fiction in UCLA’s Five-Game Slide

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 8th, 2015

I touched on the disaster that is UCLA basketball this season in Tuesday’s quick spin around the conference. And, the thing is, so did just about every writer either interested in UCLA, the Pac-12 or — given that UCLA is one of our sports’ blue-blood programs — college basketball on a national level. Having listened to everyone else’s takes, there’s plenty to agree with and plenty to disagree with. Below we’ll take a look at some of these takes and try to determine their relative truthiness, ranking each statement on a scale of 1 – completely false – to 10 – right on the money.

With UCLA On A Five-Game Slide, The Alford Family Is Firmly In The Sights of UCLA Loyalists (AP Photo)

With UCLA On A Five-Game Slide, The Alford Family Is Firmly In The Sights of UCLA Loyalists (AP Photo)

Bryce Alford is the Problem

Last week’s Bryce Alford numbers we’re off-the-charts bad: 2-of-26 from the field and 0-of-13 from three, if you need a reminder. Some see the more damning part of this the fact that he continued to shoot the ball as the misses piled up. Shots continue to go up; other players stand around and watch; Alford doesn’t do a whole lot to make his teammates better. And, frankly, as the point guard, he’s got to take the bulk of the blame when the offense he is running is sputtering so badly. Since the Kentucky game, UCLA is scoring 0.7 points per possession, and on the year, the Bruins rank 134th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating.

Truthiness score: 5. Right in the middle. The younger Alford deserves some of the criticism, but, as we’ll get to in the next point, probably not the bulk of it.

Bryce Alford is UCLA’s Best Player, and That’s the Problem

This was Gary Parrish’s take in Monday’s CBS College Basketball podcast, and to paraphrase: “Alford didn’t play well this week, but you know what? He’s still the team’s best player and that’s a scary proposition for a program the quality of UCLA.” Let’s start with the first part of that point. Is Alford UCLA’s best player? Not just yes, but hell yes, of course, clearly to anyone with eyes, and probably to most people without. He is the only player on this team that can reliably go and get his own shot on a regular basis. He’s the team’s best shooter from range. He’s the best player on the team at creating shots for his teammates. Look at the KenPom numbers for starters. His 111.3 offensive rating is by far the best on the team; he’s been over 100.0 in that metric in 11 of UCLA’s 15 games (although clearly under it in the last three); he’s assisting on better than a third of all of his teammates’ hoops when he’s on the floor (good for 45th in the nation); and he’s drilling 32 percent of his shots from deep (even with that oh-fer last week) and 91 percent from the line. Make no mistake, Bryce Alford is a very good basketball player. But should he – a guy with no realistic NBA prospects – be the best player at UCLA? Probably not.

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How Does UCLA Respond After the Kentucky Fiasco?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 23rd, 2014

I’m not sure when it started, but at some point Saturday afternoon, UCLA became a national laughingstock. Maybe it was in the middle somewhere of Kentucky’s 24-0 run to start their made-for-national-TV game in Chicago. Maybe it was when UCLA finally scored a bucket to make it 24-2 almost eight minutes into the game and got the sarcastic “oh, isn’t that nice for them” round of applause. Maybe it was at halftime when Doug Gottlieb and Seth Davis got to laugh at the Bruins and their 41-7 deficit. But certainly from halftime on, as the score floated around and into the casual sports fans’ consciousness, the Bruins became a punch line, a sick joke that lasted until that sports cycle ended and Sunday and the NFL took over.

Odds Are Good, This Shot Attempt By Norman Powell Wound Up Getting Rejected (USA Today)

Odds Are Good That This Shot Attempt By Norman Powell Wound Up Getting Rejected. (USA Today)

A lot of times when a team gets killed like UCLA did on Saturday in Chicago, you’ll hear someone say something like: “Just burn the tape, there is nothing you can learn from that game.” Well, screw that. There is plenty UCLA can learn from their disaster in Chicago. In terms of X’s and O’s: throw those out the window. What UCLA can – and needs to – learn from this game is more primal. Toughness, togetherness, competitiveness. Pride. Kansas got knocked down and kicked and left for dead by Kentucky a month ago, but since then, the Jayhawks have toughened up and started to come together and proven themselves a top ten team. The Bruins – fresh off a 39-point loss to Kentucky in which the final score was completely merciful – find themselves at a crossroads. Do they turn this into the rock bottom upon which they bounce back to the surface? Or is this a team ready to go the way of Michigan – a team whose confidence is broken?

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Three Takeaways as Kentucky Annihilates UCLA

Posted by Walker Carey on December 20th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Kentucky and UCLA at the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago. 

There has been plenty of talk so far this season about the potential of Kentucky completing an undefeated season. There has been good reason for this talk too, as the Wildcats have shown flashes of being an unstoppable force. This was never more evident than in Saturday afternoon’s 83-42 thrashing of UCLA. Kentucky started the game on a 24-0 run and led 41-7 at halftime. The Wildcats defense was so suffocating that the Bruins were held to 3-of-37 (8.1%) shooting in the first half and 19-of-71 (26.8%) shooting for the game. Probably the most incredible statistics of the first half were that Kentucky had more blocks (eight) and steals (five) than UCLA had made baskets (three). This was a thumping in every sense of the word. It was probably one of those games where UCLA coach Steve Alford would be better served to burn the footage than try to learn from it. The following are three takeaways from Saturday afternoon’s action.

Kentucky Experienced a Lot of This on Saturday Against UCLA (USA Today Images)

Kentucky Experienced a Lot of This on Saturday Against UCLA (USA Today Images)

  1. The first half could not have gone worse for UCLA. When Kentucky guard Devin Booker threw down a dunk at the 12:40 mark of the first half, all UCLA guards Bryce Alford and Norman Powell was stare at each other in amazement,as Booker’s dunk had put Kentucky ahead 24-0. Before swingman Kevon Looney finally converted a lay-in at the 12:17 mark, the Bruins missed their first 17 shots. When the half came to an end, UCLA’s futility was almost laughable. It was down 41-7. It had converted just 3-of-37 shot attempts, including 0-of-9 from behind the three-point line. It had turned the ball over eight times and let eight of its shots be swatted by Kentucky defenders. Adding insult to injury for the Bruins was the fact that it was not like Kentucky had set the world on fire offensively during the opening stanza either. The Wildcats shot just 45.7% from the field and missed several open looks from the perimeter. None of that mattered though, as Kentucky’s incredible defense, depth, and athleticism was the story once again in another lopsided victory. Read the rest of this entry »
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UCLA Guards Pass Early Eye Test

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 17th, 2014

The game of basketball has evolved so much in recent years that it has become outdated to pigeonhole a player into the traditional role of his position. Big men routinely step out to the three-point line, with few true centers left to anchor the paint. Point guards are certainly not made like they once were, with more of a desire to distribute than produce baskets — now, it’s the combo guard, an offensive-minded “tweener” who has become the trendy mold.

Steve Alford Was More Than Pleased With His UCLA Backcourt In Friday Night's Opener. (UCLA Athletics)

Steve Alford Was More Than Pleased With His UCLA Backcourt In Friday Night’s Opener. (UCLA Athletics)

At UCLA, head coach Steve Alford has three such combo guards on his roster, and the trio had some questions to answer on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion. Although a bit out of control to start, senior Norman Powell and sophomores Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton set the tone early with an attacking, uptempo bravado in the Bruins’ 113-78 win over Montana State. From the tip, all three took a head-down, get-to-the-rim mindset that didn’t look like it would offer up much ball movement. As a result, there were not too many moments in the half-court offense that stood out, and there weren’t any possessions that went deep into the shot clock. Two nights later, an 84-71 win over Coastal Carolina wasn’t quite as easy as the first game, but there was still a lot to like from the trio of guards. While the jury is still out and team depth remains a question mark, one thing is for certain: Don’t let these Bruins get out and run.

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First Impressions From UCLA’s Opening Night

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 15th, 2014

The start may have been sluggish Friday night, but UCLA’s season-opening 113-78 win over Montana State at Pauley Pavilion was simply a matter of when things would start to click. Boy, did the Bruins roll once they found that rhythm. UCLA senior guard Norman Powell led all scorers with 25 points and point guard Bryce Alford notched his first career double-double with 18 points and 12 assists. In all, six Bruins scored in double figures. Keeping in mind it was just one game against an opponent that came in as a 23.5-point underdog, here is what stood out:

Norman Powell's Athletic Play Has His Draft Stock Rising (Associated Press)

Norman Powell Led All Scorers With 25 Points in UCLA’s 113-78 Win Over Montana State. (Associated Press)

Guards of same feather flock together: Coming into the season, the question was how UCLA would perform at the point guard position with a backcourt that makes you think of its scoring first. Powell, Alford and now-eligible Isaac Hamilton combined for 26 of the contest’s first 35 points and finished with 58 while converting 19-of-31 shots — including 8-of-14 3-pointers. Look for more on the backcourt in a separate post, but there was plenty to like as the game went on with the trio’s ability to pick their spots and not make it look like they were just taking turns. Head coach Steve Alford “loved how the ball moved,” and it started with his son’s play.

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RTC Pac-12 Preseason POY and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

It is Opening Day around college basketball nation, and that means that it is time to unveil our picks for our Pac-12 All-Conference teams. We asked five voters (Tracy McDannald, Adam Butler, Kevin Danna, Connor Pelton and myself) to list their 15 best players in the conference, in order of #1 to #15. What follows is our collective best guess at the 15 players most worth watching in the Pac-12 this season.

Pac-12 Preseason Co-Conference Players of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah and Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford. Wright and Randle tied atop our poll and each player received two first-place votes among our five voters, so they’ll share this preseason honor. This first bit to note is that, in an era of star freshmen and one-and-dones and very few elite upperclassmen to speak of, not only do two seniors share our Preseason POY honor, but more than half of the 15 players on our three teams are seniors, with just three underclassmen (one freshman and two sophomores) on our list.

Delon Wright's Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright’s Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

But, let’s focus on our POYs for a second. First, Wright. After earning plaudits in the Utes’ early season practices last year, he announced his presence to the college basketball world by racking up ridiculous lines against overmatched opponents — witness the 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 10 boards, seven assists, seven steals and three blocks in the Utes’ opener last season; or the 12 points, nine boards, six assists and two blocks he followed that up with. Sure, those games were against Evergreen State and UC Davis, but as the season advanced, the story they told about him remained the same: a highly efficient player capable of positively affecting the game for his team in a variety of ways. Look at his final traditional numbers on the year: 36.4 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 56.1% FG, 79.3% FT. The only glaring weakness was his inability to regularly knock in three-point shots (22.2% on 54 attempts). Oh, and there was that little issue about his team struggling in close games and missing the NCAA Tournament. That last bit? That’s the area Wright needs to change the most this season. For Wright to be in consideration for Pac-12 Player of the Year at the end of the season, we can forgive a little bit of a backslide on last year’s spectacular individual numbers so long as the talented Utes live up to their potential, push Arizona a little bit in the conference standings, and wind up dancing come March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 All-Defense & Specialty Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 12th, 2014

Yesterday we unveiled our RTC Pac-12 All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams. Tomorrow, we’ll release our All-Conference teams. And on Friday, just before the first games tip off, we’ll have the results of our preseason conference poll. Today, we will have a little fun though and unveil our specialty teams, ranging from our Gary Payton All-Defensive team, to our Jorge Gutierrez All-Glue team to our Russell Westbrook All-Dunktastic Team. Enjoy. And feel free to let us know where we screwed up.

The Gary Payton Pac-12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. McConnell, Arizona

He won’t wow you with his athleticism or make opponents look silly with soul-crushing blocks or quick-handed steals, but McConnell is the consummate veteran who is always in the right place at the right time, funneling opponents toward long-armed and intimidating opponents. Sure, McConnell probably gets this award because he plays on a team with so many other terrific defenders (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson can destroy opponents with their athleticism, while Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are capable rim-protectors), but he’s a fundamentally-minded defender who always makes things difficult on opponents.

T.J. McConnell's Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player (Arizona Athletics)

T.J. McConnell’s Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player. (Arizona Athletics)

Joining McConnell on the All-Defensive Team are:

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona
  • Shaquielle McKissic, Sr, Arizona State
  • Norman Powell, Sr, UCLA

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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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UCLA’s Most Important Player: Isaac Hamilton

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 5th, 2014

The offseason in Westwood could have gone better — much better. The Bruins knew they were going to be woefully thin in the backcourt, and head coach Steve Alford was never going to completely replace point-forward Kyle Anderson, the 6’9” match-up nightmare with elite point guard skills. But then UCLA received word that Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus had been denied admission, nixing the Bruins’ best-laid plans to make him the starting point guard. There’s just not much depth available here at all, and this clearly puts additional pressure on the Bruins’ starters (although senior Norman Powell should have little issue so long as he remains in good health). Off the bench, UCLA may struggle beyond Noah Allen to find any realistic contributors under the height of 6’9”.

Isaac Hamilton, the No. 25 overall prospect, cited his relationship with UTEP head coach Tim Floyd as deciding factor

Sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton, who was forced to miss all of the 2013-14 season, will be needed at both backcourt positions at UCLA.

The void creates a big opportunity for combo guard Isaac Hamilton, and there may not be a more valuable player on the roster. The 6’4” sophomore missed the entire 2013-14 season after backing out of his initial commitment with UTEP. While Hamilton lost a year in the transition, he was able to practice with his teammates and digest the system, and that is where his true value will be revealed. The year away from action did wonders for T.J. McConnell at Arizona, where the point guard ran the scout team before becoming a valuable piece last season. Hamilton’s case is different because he doesn’t have previous Division I experience under his belt, but there’s something to be said about developing team chemistry and learning the tendencies of teammates in a practice setting.

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