Monthly Archives: October 2011

All treat for the Pac-12 this Halloween

It was indeed a treat of a Halloween for the Pac-12. Before noon pacific, the conference had secured three huge commitments.

Dominic Artis committed to Oregon, Rosco Allen to Stanford, and Kaleb Tarczewski to Arizona. By Ballin’ is a Habit’s consensus rankings, that’s 61 to Eugene, 68 to Palo Alto, and 8 to Tucson.

The biggest treat of the day is Tarczewski who will bring immediate interior help to a young and developing Arizona frontcourt. He’ll be joining Sean Miller’s already impressive (tops in the nation) 2012 class including Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett, and Gabe York. From a talent standpoint, this is obviously a huge get for the Wildcats, but it’s an example of the rich getting richer – no Robin Hood here. Miller managed to swoop the big man right off Kansas front porch and I imagine he’ll have no regrets as the seven-footer owns the McKale paint.

Artis is a solid pickup for Oregon and is the second commitment from the Oakland Soldiers to commit to the school. Dana Altman will have Jabari Brown on this year’s roster. After de-commiting from UCLA last month, Artis had much of the west coast after him. Settling on Oregon his huge for Altman as he looks to establish his Ducks amongst the conference elite.

And then there’s Allen. A young man who grew a lot in a little time and somewhat lost his position. From wing to power forward, Allen is settling into his 6’8″ frame and should bring a very solid skill set to Johnny Dawkins’ Cardinal squad.

With the recent decline of Pac-12 hoops, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Miller’s rapid recruiting successes have put heavy pressure on the rest of the conference to up its game. Granted, there has been somewhat of a absence of high school talent coming out of the west, but that hasn’t stopped Ben Howland this off season. He’s secured the nation’s #2 class, hauling in two East Coasters in Kyle Anderson (NJ) and Jordan Adams (GA). Success breeds success and today’s commitments is evidence of that.

As more and more talent stays or heads west, the better everyone will be. And maybe then, the conference can life up to its monicker: The Conference of Champions.

Old or young, just be a good point guard

Many will tell you that winning college basketball has a lot to do with your point guard. After all, they’re the one handling the ball more often than not.

Dana O’Neil took a look at the position for the four preseason title favorites: UConn, Kentucky, Ohio State, and North Carolina. Each team is absolutely loaded with talent but also saddled with youth at the point. This, O’Neil points out, does not bode well for their title chances. There have been only six underclassmen floor generals to lead their team to a national championship in the last twenty years (Arizona’s Mike Bibby being one of them).

While I agree that experience at the helm is a great advantage, I don’t think youth is a death certificate. There are some omissions to O’Neil’s piece. For example, she fails to mention that Derrick Rose (UM), Darren Collison (UCLA), Mike Conley Jr. (OSU), Travis Walton (MSU) and Ronald Nored (Butler) were all underclassmen national runners up over the last six seasons. Championships are a terrific measure of success, but runner up ain’t too shabby and perhaps demonstrates that talent trumps experience.

Shifting from a national perspective to the West, the Pac-12 hasn’t quite followed the trend of the national champions. Of the last eleven conference champions (outright, not tournament) seven have been underclassmen, just two were seniors (Jerome Randall of Cal and Michael McDonald of Stanford), and one was the conference POY (Randall). Also of note, only one of these players (Luke Ridnour in 2003) was a lottery pick but five have played in the NBA. They may be young but they are talented.

Examining the crop of 2011-12 Pac-12 point guards shows us that we have an experienced group but not necessarily the most talented. There are six seniors and eight total upperclassmen. There are only two projected starting freshman (Josiah Tuner of AZ and Jahii Carson of ASU) but Carson has yet to qualify and hasn’t practiced with the Sun Devils. Although an argument can be made that Tony Wroten, Washington’s talented freshman, could be a starting point, I believe junior Abdul Gaddy is the lead guard for the Huskies. And while the league’s floor generals may be long in the tooth, they’re also short on accolades. Only Jorge Gutierrez received any conference recognition last season, making First Team All-Conference.

But per O’Neil’s logic, the Pac-12 is set up to have some pretty sturdy squads based on experience. Her fellow media-folk appear to agree. The Pac-12 media poll picked UCLA and Cal to finish first and second in the conference. Not coincidentally, these two teams are led by senior point guards.

Perhaps O’Neil says it best, “The special ones get it.” With the ball in their hand, they make their team better. So who, amongst the Pac’s point guards, gets it? Who’s going to lead their team better than the others? The young or the old? The wise or the green?

We’ll take a deeper look in the next few days as I breakdown each team’s point guard situation.

Big year coming: Faisal Aden

Faisal Aden was supposed to be the understudy.

He was transferring in to a Washington State team returning eventual lottery pick Klay Thompson, Pac-10 Freshman of the Year runner up, Reggie Moore, and more than capable big man, DeAngelo Casto. Needless to say, not much was expected of the slight, 6’4” 185 lbs guard.

He was supposed to learn.

But when Moore had to sit out the season’s first five games with a wrist injury, Aden threw himself a coming out party and never really stopped; averaging 21 points while the sophomore recovered. He would finish the season averaging 13.1 points and 3.4 rebounds – his scoring cooling with Moore’s return – but make no mistake, Aden can light it up. And he’ll need to if Ken Bone is going to expedite this rebuilding process, not aided by early departure.

But Klay’s gone now and Aden will be asked to be a major scoring threat. Fortunately, he is just that: a scorer. Similar to Thompson, Aden isn’t going to wow you with athleticism. He isn’t huge and doesn’t have remarkable quickness or spring. He’s also not going to blow up Ken Pomeroy’s number machine – he was 55th amongst all Pac-10 players last year in offensive rankings. He’s ultimately going to have to become more efficient.

But why can’t he? He’ll have a potentially elite point guard in Moore to bear much of the ball handling load and plenty of touches (not news as he took more shots than Thompson last year) with Thompson and Casto off to the NBA.

Look, Aden’s breakout season may be the loftiest of all the breakout players profiled on this site, but given Ken Bone’s active system, and their need to find scoring, I like Aden’s chances of putting up All-Conference numbers. And if you look at the shooting percentages, his dropped as the season progressed. At the half way point Aden was shooting a very solid 48% (he’d cool to 42%) a key indicator of fatigue and perhaps injury (he did miss a late season game with a sore knee). Keep in mind, last year was Aden’s first season of D-I hoops (he was a junior college transfer) and – as a motivated senior- Aden should arrive in shape and ready to contribute; in big ways.

While the Cougars’ success rides heavily on the shoulders of both Moore and Aden, Faisal is the key to a not-so-rebuilding year.

He’ll have to win over Pomeroy first, but the understudy may be ready for a second act.

Big year coming: Dwight Powell

The Pac-12 has produced some phenomenal power forwards of late. From Kevin Love to Nikola Vucevic, Derrick Williams and Taj Gibson, the Pac is putting big boys in the league. The current crop ain’t half bad either.  With producers like Harper Kamp, Jessie Perry, and half of UCLA’s lineup, there are a number PFs that can hoop. The best of which may very well be Dwight Powell.

The wiry Stanford forward has NBA written all over him. He is the fourth best NBA prospect in the conference per Draft Express and with good reason; he’s long, athletic, and has a lot of frame left to grow in to. He reminds me a lot of Jordan Hill who arrived in Arizona extremely raw. Like Hill, Powell didn’t pick up basketball until he was a teen and has a lot to learn about the game. As a freshman, Hill averaged 4 points and 4 boards before blowing up into a lottery pick as he gained strength and basketball awareness over the next two seasons. In his own freshman year, Powell averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds, playing most comfortably on the perimeter and flashing athletic brilliance.

As he continues to develop, Powell’s perimeter play should move from comfort zone to asset. His size and developing strength can make him a matchup nightmare; if he can develop the threat of a post game, who guards him? He can take fours on the perimeter and smalls to the post. The sky is ultimately the limit for any athlete, particularly skilled 6’9” ones.

Heading into this season, Powell will be looked to score more as the Cardinal lose last year’s leading scorer, Jeremy Green. However, Powell finds himself in a good situation with Josh Owens and Anthony Brown returning and capable of shouldering some of the scoring pressure. Owens brings a similar skill set to Powell’s and the two could form a formidable two-headed post monster; allowing Powell to flourish without being the primary focus of an opponent’s defense.

Needless to say, to watch Powell is to see pure potential; no doubt a frustrating but encouraging site for Cardinal fans. As he develops his strength and general basketball skill set, Powell will cause fits. A player no team will want to face, joining the litany (hyperbole?) of dominant Pac-12 power forwards.

And if none of this pans out for young Dwight, it appears he may have a future in acting:



Big year coming: Allen Crabbe

If Allen Crabbe follows suit with the four previous Pac-10 Freshmen of the Year, expect the 6’6” wing to have a monster year. That’s because he’d be playing like Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Isaiah Thomas, or Derrick Williams. Yes, that’s four NBA players, two-conference POYs, and two lottery picks. Lofty shoes to fill for the reining conference FOY.

But Crabbe has the skill set to do so.

He opened his collegiate career as most freshmen would on a team that just lost eight players to graduation and transfer. He struggled out of the gate averaging just 9 ppg and taking more than ten attempts just twice before conference play (compared to taking single digit attempts once in conference play). But once leauge play began, Crabbe’s level of play picked up. He asserted himself as the elite shooter that he is and finished the season as the league’s top in conference three point shooter (48%) and sixth leading scorer (16.4 ppg).

No one has ever doubted that Crabbe could shoot. The question is can he take the next step – both literally and figuratively – and be more than a shooter. The knock has been that Crabbe isn’t quite an elite athlete, perhaps can’t turn the corner, slash through the lane.

But Crabbe’s demonstrated improvement, progressing into the conference FOY, bodes well for the wing heading into his sophomore campaign. He has a dynamic tandem in seniors Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez, both of whom should be able to open the floor up – either by slashing or from the post, respectively – for Crabbe to shoot. He has that going for him.

And while he may not be an elite athlete – and this is what I love about Crabbe’s game – he crashes the boards. He’s not the biggest guy on the court, not by any stretch of even a Dr. Seus imagination, but at 6’6” 205 lbs, Crabbe gets after it. He finished his freshman year pulling in 5.3 boards per game, third most for the Bears. And do I see two assists per game? Thirteen, five, and two? Sounds a bit like a complete player to me.

What’s more, players often make their biggest strides between their freshman and sophomore years; having acclimated to the college game, gaining some strength and experience. Here’s some anecdotal evidence using players similar to Crabbe:

Player Freshman Sophomore
Patrick Christopher (Cal) 5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1 assist 15 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2 assists
Trent Lockett (ASU) 6.7, 3, 1 13, 5, 2.5
Brandon Roy (UW) 6, 3, 1 13, 5, 3
Arron Afflalo (UCLA) 10, 3, 2 15, 4, 2

While he certainly has things to improve – strength being one of them –from a skill set stand point, Crabbe can flat out play. Can he play like his FOY predecessors? Time will tell. But don’t be surprised if Crabbe is among the top five scorers in the league this season and an All-Conference performer.

Preseason Coaches Poll released

The USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll was released today and three Pac-12 teams made the early cut.

Arizona is the highest ranked at 16th followed by UCLA (20) and Cal (24). Washington received 29 votes, putting them in the ever teasing “Others Receiving Votes” category.

While preseason polls don’t mean too much, this is the first preseason poll since 2008 that the Pac-12 has had more than two teams in; a good sign that the conference’s recently dimmed reputation is brightening.

Arizona and UCLA make their returns to the preseason ranks for the first time in four and three years, respectively. Washington opened last season at 17th.

Scott Suggs is hurt but Washington won’t be

Scott Suggs felt a pop and it turned out to be a stress fracture in his right foot. The Washington guard is expected to miss 8-12 weeks with the injury, a potentially tough loss for a developing Husky squad depleted of 58% of last season’s scoring.

First, let’s put a little context to Sugg’s role as a Husky. He’s a senior and co-Captain of a team touting eight freshman. He scored 7.4 ppg last year and fired a team high 45% from beyond the arc. His three point shot – by percentages – was third best in the conference. He is a senior who has played in and seen it all: two sweet sixteens, won two Pac-10 Tournament titles, and one regular season title. He’s been a part of Husky success. Suggs is a 6’6” shooter and plays a huge role whether he fills up the stat sheet or not. Leadership, particularly on a young team, is critical.

He’s a projected starter, the captain, and lethal from distance. UW needs him so Suggs’ injury can’t be good for the Huskies, right?

Wrong. Suggs’ injury is going to make this team better and here’s why.

The injury allows this young team to develop its identity. It’ll put players like Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross, and Abdul Gaddy into new situations. Gaddy’s been able to play understudy to Isaiah Thomas and, to an extent, Venoy Overton (no one should take life lessons from Venoy); Ross has talent but hasn’t been the man in a UW jersey yet; and Tony Wroten, for all the hype, is still a freshman. Suggs brings classic senior stability to a lineup of question marks – question marks that could quickly become exclamation points – but having him out of the lineup should help to expedite the learning curve.

It could also let the Huskies develop another one of their freshman crop, perhaps Hikeem Stewart, or simply up the confidence of Suggs’ fellow sharp shooter, CJ Wilcox. Ultimately, the Huskies stand to benefit from Suggs’ absence as the senior knows his role and will not throw any wrinkles into the equation upon his return.

Suggs is expected to be back in time for a brutal NYC swing in which the Huskies visit Madison Square Garden to take on Marquette (12/6) and then Duke (12/10). That gives UW six games –all cupcakes besides a trip to Reno to play a tough Nevada squad – to figure out how good they can be without their senior leader.

They should be just fine.

Just getting started…on big things

I promise you, the Pac-12 exists. There are teams over here and they play on a rectangular court with ten foot baskets in arenas with an orange ball and ten players – five per team. Yes, while you’re sleeping over there, these teams play and play well. And let me get this out of the way: I’m not an apologist or fan of all twelve squads. I hate Arizona State and I’m not particularly fond of Oregon or USC all the time. But I’m also not happy with the also-ran reputation of The Conference of Champions (thankfully Larry Scott isn’t either) and can respect – to a high degree – what any one of these programs is doing. And for that, I want to talk about it.

So here’s what pachoops will bring: commentary, analysis, passion, objective opinions, biased opinions, the heat. You’re going to bring: big love, big hate, comments, guest blogging (seriously shoot me an email), the heat. Grab a sweat rag, let’s do this.