Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Happy New Years From Mexico

Through a torrent text exchange between my brother and I, it was confirmed that our family departure time, pending any paternal hiccups, we would arrive in Mexico in time to catch the Diamond Head Classic championship game. This was good news. Certainly good news on the heels of a delayed turned cancelled turned next-day-departure travel saga.

We arrived at our desolate and cozy fishing village – a destination we’ve frequented for twenty-one consecutive New Years – with ample time to unpack, jog on the sunset bathed beach, and secure a couple cold ones. Then the hunt for Arizona-Red December began.

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Bahia de Kino, Sonora, Mexico.

It started at La Palapa, the same bar/restaurant we took in such contests as the Arizona @ UW Roy V. Adams battle, the 1997 Holiday Bowl, and other opening Pac weekend games. With me driving, baby brother ran in with his slighty-better-than-functional Spanish only to discover they’d cancelled their Dish subscription. And had no black box.

Onto the next, blowing right past La Margarita where we watched the 2010 Holiday Bowl and which had since went under, to check game availability at La Casa Blanca. We’d yet to take in a ‘Cats game at this venue, ever, and the blackened windows and blacked out patio bar led us to believe – despite my brother’s investigative lap – we wouldn’t soon be catching ESPN2 at this establishment.

Our third stop was Jorge’s, the last bar on the single lane strip of highway along the beach with a glorious pelican mural on its southern-most wall. Brother again ran in only to find they had limited television access despite a glamorous flat screen adorning the inside of that very muraled wall. We had now, at this point, exhausted our known and possible viewing establishments.

To use the colloquial term: Tuvimos un problema.

Which is right about the moment my cousin, Michael, spoke up. This young lad is in college, one’s prime years of thriftiness, and had recently returned from time abroad. A semester in which the young man became savvy with regards to – we’ll call it accessing – any broadcast his heart desired. And so, with the matter of factness displayed by an expert attorney delivering a closing argument, Michael informed us of his skill. Whilst skeptical, we were desperate, and took the youngin’ up on his offer. After all, we’d surveyed our choices and the only remaining option was a spotty-at-best AM radio feed.

Michael’s idea was a success. We hovered around a 15-inch Mac screen, a floating group of eight; a dedicated group of three. The shoddy feed added to the drama of an already tense top-20 matchup. Of course the game’s biggest moments commanded the biggest crowd (we’d grown to eight by then) and at that point we were relegated to a business card-sized viewing, having long given up on full-screen mode’s ability to deliver any continuity of picture. That’s to say, we’d reached our limit on shots that would freeze mid-flight for 2-to-8 seconds only to reemerge as a five-point swing the other way!

And so, on the edge of my bar stool and with only the slightest bit of conscientiousness for my dad’s second row seat, I watched that business card as Mark Lyons drew a foul and knocked down both free throws.

(less conscientiousness, and louder)

Tapley received the hand off and dribbled to the top of the key.

(I grabbed my brother’s arm)

The screen came and Nick Johnson was seemingly eliminated (FORESHADOWING!) from the equation.

(I swore. Loudly. Repeatedly.)

Brandon Ashley slid off of his defender to cut Tapley off as if he were a Spanish bullfighter. Ole!

(I began to sulk)

And so there it was: A lane more open than a taco shop for Chase Tapley to knock off the third ranked team in the country and maintain SDSU’s strangel-hold on west coast collegiate hoops. With his dribble up he began to elevate for the game winner.

Tapley would later admit he went up too slow. I concurrently admitted the game stream was miserably slow.

But Nick Johnson, aboard a chartered flight, arrived to send the Aztec layup away and into the secure arms of Kevin Parrom. The buzzer sounded. The computer froze.

(Incoherent screaming)

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We looked about this content.

Such was the beginning to my New Years celebrations; a Wildcat victory and my mother’s birthday at our annual Christmas-to-New Years break in Mexico. Mom smiled with little understanding beyond the fact that Arizona outscoring San Diego State excited her boys. Perhaps that was enough for her, parenthood is a love I have yet to personally comprehend, though I do appreciate it.

And today, the eve of 2013 in which we venture into new beginnings and accelerate old ones, may you be amongst the people that make you your best, that remind you of and facilitate smile-worthy moments,
and who perhaps you irritate beyond rational explanation of cause.

And if you can’t? Well, there’s always midnight.

Happy New Year.

 

DiamondHeadClassic

Diamond Head Classic Championship: Best of the West

To call tonight’s Arizona-San Diego State contest a statement game would appear hyperbolic. On paper, and current state aside, this is a Mountain West team playing a Pac-12 team. David versus Goliath or whichever underdog fable you’d like to run with, this game would appear to hold little by way of overarching significance.

But such is not the case. The San Diego Aztecs, as it stands today, are the preeminent team of the West Coast; Sean Miller said so himself. They’ve not lost to a Pac-12 opponent in their previous seven tries – their last loss coming in 2009 – and haven’t lost to a California-based opponent in an obscene 25-straight games. The Aztec resume is a significant one and so when they take to the court in Hawaii to face off against #3 Arizona, I question: Who’s the dog here?

Indeed there’s something bigger than a Diamond Head Classic trophy on the line.

For Arizona, this is a reclamation of the presumed birthright; the pedestal they and their other high-major conference contemporaries have taken for granted. An opportunity to assert themselves as who they think they are. And I, for one, think these Wildcats believe they’re something special.

For San Diego State, tonight’s game is far from their proving grounds. They’re proven (see above). This is a game that Steve Fisher’s group believes they can, should, and will win. He’s built a program over there – from garnering three straight NCAA invites to seven straight NCAA or NIT invites to the vitriolic Show – SDSU believes they are winners; the key ingredient to any successful campaign.

Plus we’re looking at a bit of a rivalry here. This is a Christmas feature of opponents who have faced off twenty-seven times, with SDSU winning each of the last two times. And with the lines between BCS and otherwise having long been blurred, it should come as no surprise that a big-ish school in beautiful San Diego could make a run at best of the West and been successful at it.

By way of tangible stakes, there’s little more than a made-for-TV tournament title and a blip in national attention to be had here. But our closer look suggests Arizona is running with what one might consider the conference’s honor. I see it as the Wildcats standing up to what’s been the Pac-12’s bully and demonstrating that hey, these guys aren’t that tough for the other eleven. To date, no one’s stood up to the Aztecs and it’s time someone has. And no, to beat them would equate to putting Fisher’s team or program in their “mid-major” place. SDSU’s place is right wherever they want to be. They’ve earned the West’s top billing and should be applauded for that success.

But Arizona, the conference’s flagship program while UCLA does whatever they’re doing, has the chance to remind the others it’s ok to be good again. That this is indeed the Pac-12, the Conference of Champions that’s produced 217 NBA draft picks since 1980 (the second most of the big six conferences)and who used to put six teams in the Dance regularly. Who once offered their 1997 fifth place finisher to the Madness only to win it all. Who has some talented pieces that just might need to be reminded that simply because someone says you’re mediocre, doesn’t mean you have to be. Ask SDSU about it.

Sometimes winning and losing is the minute difference between belief and doubt. I’d question whether the Pac believes they can win. I mean, look at some of the losses to date: Kravish misses UNLV box out; Randle fouls Minnesota 40-feet from the basket; Albany, Cal Poly, and CSU-Northridge; Colorado barely showing up to Kansas.

Perhaps I’ve digressed from the Diamond Head championship game, but forgive me for recognizing that the San Diego State Aztecs have taken the Pac-12 – Arizona included – to task for the better part of three years. Actually, sorry I’m not sorry.

The Arizona Wildcats have been on a long road back to where they feel they belong, and sure that’s to say in the top-five competing for things far bigger than preseason tournaments. It feels great and it looks good and it’s real nice. Beating the well-prepared and un-intimidated San Diego State Aztecs will be another step in exercising the demons of recent Arizona season’s past. And perhaps eleven others.

JordanLoveridge

Utah Utes: The Pac-12 Fat Kids

When I was twelve years old I attended a one week session of the Lute Olson Basketball Camp. Like any Tucson boy following the spring of 1997, I’d essentially arrived at the land of Milk and Honey; ecstatic to be playing games on the same floor as Bibby, Dickerson, Simon, and even Bramlett.

I was the stout kid, oversized and undercoordinated, but goodness I was excited to be there. Over the span of that one week camp, I managed to garner myself an award. Yes, I was awarded Most Improved which is kind of like giving me the “You-were-so-bad-on-Monday-but-managed-not-to-hurt-yourself-or-anyone-else-by-Friday Award.” I’d go on to play baseball.

The sample set for my awarding was limited, centered on an established base whether fair or not. The eyeball test set the precedent for, let’s call it, room for improvement.

NOTE: The same session in which I won the Most Improved Award I was also awarded the Best Attitude Award. I was the ultimate fat kid.

Well just a season ago – heck, just eight months ago – the Utah Utes and Coach Krystowiak, were a six-win team which included a win over San Diego Christian. At one point during that campaign, the Utes were considering opening the roster to the student body. To call 2011-12 a learning year is a disservice to learning years.

Again, we can call it, room for improvement.

That season solidified the Runnin’ Utes’ place as conference fat kids – devoid of expectations and engendering our sympathies – a lot bit like me at camp.

Well this may still be the case – they have yet to play a BCS opponent and have not played a ranked opponent since the 2010-11 season – but the Utes have quietly surpassed last season’s abysmal win total and are looking increasingly good doing so. The crown jewel of their recruiting class, Jordan Loveridge, has been terrific (12/7/2) on the wing-hybrid while Jared DuBois has been a pleasant scoring boost in his first and only year in Salt Lake. Additionally, Dallin Bachynski is following in the surprising footsteps of his brother, Jordan of ASU, and giving the Utes further front court depth (senior Jason Washburn is off to a slow start). As a team, they’ve jumped more than 100 spots up the ORtg and DRtg rankings and are in the top 50 of making and defending 2-point buckets.

Suffice to say, the Utes are beginning to fill the improvement space.

It’s still early, equatable to a week long basketball camp, and so it’s fair to call the kids who began as the undisputed chubsters with nothing to lose exactly that. But I recognize the progress, applaud the effort, and appreciate the wins. Improvement doesn’t always have to be measured in progress from rock bottom but the Utes have shown a decisive change from one season ago. Just run the math:

6-wins in 31 games < 7-wins in 10 games.

For such, and all things considered, I toss an empathetic arm around the collective Ute shoulder and offer my own Most Improved Award. Keep it up.

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BB: Arizona Basketball

The final seven seconds ticked off and the Gator heave proved errant. Arizona had just outscored the number five team in the nation, bucketing the game’s final seven points including a thrilling runner.

And in that moment – the clock at zeros, the scoreboard reading 65-64 – the man responsible for that runner stood amongst the fans.

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Mark Lyons makes the McKale Leap

We can talk about what position Mark Lyons plays, but ultimately I think this is his favorite spot: the one where he’s winning. Because it was unquestioned who was going to have the ball and what he was going to do with it following the Kenny Boynton missed free throw. It wasn’t even worth a timeout to talk about it any further. That timeout was taken in May and the conversation had over countless workouts, team building, and trust.

He stood atop the courtside seating and reveled in being revered. It was beautiful. A bridging of the gap between protagonist and star, in this case two entities starved for success. Because following that moment, it all got a little more real. All the talk of scheduling and early tests and true point guards was briefly set aside as the travelled young man and the weathered fan base basked in the glow of accomplishment.

For the past six seasons, the roof of the McKale Center has been methodically reaffixed to its foundation. A byproduct of the shaky transition from Olson to Miller.

Saturday was the game to blow the top right back off. By many accounts McKale was as loud as ever; because people knew. That shaky transition has afforded a fan base the perspective to appreciate the magnitude of these moments. Because they don’t happen often.

We don’t often get to see the Solomon Hill’s of the world enter college and develop so dynamically. The type of player who hit just four three pointers as a freshman and missed countless dunks grow into the deft and creative slasher he’s become. A leader. The player who twice found his way artfully – beautifully – to the basket for the most critical of stretch baskets Saturday night. And while it’s grossly cliché to say a given man willed his team to victory, I’m at a loss for what else to call Hill’s defensive pressure at the close of each half. Solomon Hill’s are rare.

And that was the magic of Saturday’s victory. It became the manifestation of more than a night’s effort. While this may be a completely new generation of Wildcats, it’s again the program we recognize.

Is there season left to be played? Are there challenges remaining? Did Arizona win a game it very likely should have lost? Consider this a resounding, yes.

But that’s all a part of the excitement. To know that if Nick Johnson needs to be the best player on the court, he can be. To know that if the team needs critical buckets in a stretch run, Grant Jerrett can hit those jumpers. To know that if energy is lacking, Kevin Parrom’s number will be called.

And when the team needs two-points with nineteen seconds to play…

Well, let’s just say we already knew about that.

Sean Miller post Florida

A smiling man.

AllBuffs

Week Three at All Buffs: Exam Week Was Slow

Exam week slowed our watching prowess then erupted on Saturday. My third wrap up with AllBuffs.

I’d say it was a pretty sound week for the Pac. While they did drop another game to a ranked opponent (their 17th this year), Arizona edged a marquee victory and Shabazz seemed to play well with less weight. Yes, there’s that dialogue still in Los Angeles.

The schedule will continue to slow as we head into 2013 and the conference season so start studying up on your favorite sixth men (check out Tyrone Wallace at Cal) and spend a few minutes each day thinking about our trip to Vegas in March. Oh, and do anything better than UC-Riverside.

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BB: For Arizona, This is The Game

When Florida enters the McKale Center Saturday, they’ll be the first ranked opponent on Lute and Bobbi Olson court since the 2010-11 #21 BYU Cougars, uhhh, beat Arizona. I was at that game and vomited four times. Literally.

Alright so I had food poisoning and that shall not be the premise of my Florida-Arizona commentary. No, I’d like to revisit the upset surrounding scheduling. How the departed Jim Livengood, knowing full well the program was in moderate shambles could arrange for such a home-and-home to happen. To allow a mid-major to embarrass the Wildcats in McKale – then a year later on the road.

I’m not pointing a finger at Livengood. He wasn’t dribbling or shooting or letting Jimmer to the rack at will. No, it was a strategic lapse, on to the next. And what’s next has been the Sean Miller show with guest appearances from Derrick Williams, Josiah Turner, Kyryl Natyazkho and Lamont Jones. With special contributions from Tim Floyd.

But this Saturday marks the end of guests and special contributors. This is year four and Miller hand picked this team. He’s built them and developed them and, if we’re to believe he’s as good a coach as we want to, he knew what he was doing. And that’s why he has Florida coming to town. That’s why next year marks the beginning of a home and home with Michigan followed by a home and home with Missouri with rumors of Gonzaga sprinkled in and visits to NYC (preseason NIT) and Maui. It’s the model Lute followed and if you’ll recall his twenty-five seasons in Tucson, it worked pretty well, right?

So what of these Gators? The first top-10 showdown in McKale in eight years? With respect to the aforementioned build up to this crowning season of the Sean Miller era, this is the marquee game. This is the coming out party. This is the how you like me now moment. For all of the cupcakes and walkover games previously scheduled and played, the ones built to set these developing Wildcats up for success, this is the one built to lead them to success. The kind that puts tiny numbers next to your name and the kind that puts you in the national conversation. The kind that makes programs not seasons and the kind that puts rings on your finger and banners in your rafters.

For all the talk of SOS, RPI, etc. this is Miller’s first flash of SOP – Strength of Program. And that’s not to say this is a must win. Arizona could very well lose this game and carry on to have tremendous success; win a billion games and twelve titles. But for the first time, by program design, Arizona will work to assert itself nationally, not just the best amongst a meddling Pac-12.

Now when discussing this stance I’ve put forth, my buddy Jamie (who once unofficially procured a triple-double in HS) was quick to cite my hyperbole. And he’s got a point. This is a scheduled contest, part of a contract signed maybe two years ago. How could anyone have known Florida would be a sultry 7-0 in 2012? I see his point. Big schools schedule big schools. This is just another in a series of games that will be added to the schedule.

But just ask Tom Crean about the three years of beatings he took from Kentucky before finally dropping them last year. Think that meant something to him? Think that meant something to Hoosier faithful? How about this year’s team? WE ARE INDIANA HEAR US ROAR! 

Maybe I get a little carried away in the magnitude of this game, swept up in the romanticism of perhaps getting to witness a catapulting victory. But you can’t tell me there isn’t something bigger than Gators at Wildcats here because it’s been a spell since Tucson could taste it. There was that moment in Anaheim but it never quite felt real, lasting. Don’t get me wrong, taking Duke to task was remarkable but deep down there it was all too unexpected. Special to be sure, but this is the time. This is why players come to Arizona. It’s why Sean said yes and it’s why there will 15,000 people inside that arena just off Campbell Ave.

So yeah, Jamie, I’m swept up in it. But I just think we’re supposed to be.

Pac12Tournament

Pac-12 Selling $12 Tournament Session Tickets

PacHoops, from it’s inception, has made no bones about its excitement of the Pac-12’s expansion and subsequent journey into television network-dom. The head quarters themselves are just an Uncle Rico stone’s throw from my apartment and they broadcast any and every game I want to see. Or at least facilitate the broadcast rights in such a manner that ESPN or some other carrier provides.

The Pac-12 Network has changed our lives.

And it continues to do so. Tomorrow is 12/12/12 – that’s a lotta dozens – and to celebrate such, the conference is selling $12 single session passes to the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. Tomorrow, from 10am-to-10pm PST,  the tickets will be available for purchase here (http://pac-12.com/tickets).

But what does it all mean, Basil? As a credit card touting consumer, you are eligible to purchase one ticket to each session for $12 a piece. For you math wizzes, that’s $72 dollars to attend the entire Pac-12 Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. In layman’s terms: Ganga.

So I’ll be there and I’m prepared to party with you. Hell, I write a column called Marching to Vegas for Rush the Court. We’ve been giddy about this thing since the day it was speculated. The MGM Grand Garden Arena ain’t seen nothin’ yet (OK, so it’s Vegas and that arena has likely seen all sorts of stuff. But I guarantee you it hasn’t seen Tad Boyle kill a bear!). All I know is Larry Scott put this thing in Vegas for us to attend which is more than we can say for Staples.

Be there and let’s watch somebody auto-qualify for The Dance.

 

 

DwightPowell

Where Did the Stanford Cardinal Go?

Is it just me or did the Stanford Cardinal disappear? Since they “disappointed” at the Battle for Atlantis they’ve ho-hummed to victories over [insert major west coast market here] Universities (that’s a Denver and Seattle reference). There’s a huge gap in their schedule – off from 12/2 to 12/15 – contributing to their fall from headlines but also perhaps adding to the idea that they could be mediocre.

Let’s talk about why they’re not mediocre for a second. They settle in at 40th in KenPom’s rankings with their tight 20th rated defense and have a few individuals putting up some gaudy numbers in Dwight Powell, Chasson Randle, and Josh Huestis. The report on this team was they needed those pieces to do precisely that. So why, amongst the returning drone of the Pac-12’s mediocrity, is Stanford being dismissed?

Arguably it’s a result of that very perception of mass mediocrity across these Pacific-12 schools; sort of an all-for-one quality to that thought. When you start a season 6-3, regardless of opposition, you expose yourself to that very discussion. And when you lose at home to Belmont, you manifest that very claim, and fall beneath the radar.

NEW QUESTION: Is Stanford right where they want to be?

They’d prefer to have beat Mizzou and Minnesota in a gauntlet of a Battle for Atlantis but we can certainly check off the “Battle Tested” box on their tournament resume (though I hate the close-loss-to-a-good-opponent argument). They would also have preferred to play those games with Aaron Bright. He’s the guy who can make this team tick. The Cardinal are 2-2 in his absence and during last season’s NIT run, Bright was the team’s leading scorer and second assist-man. I’ve likened him to the quintessential playmaker of Cardinal past (Lee, Hernandez, Knight) and that’s a big part of Stanford dropping close games to talented opponents. Of course I can’t say whether or not Chasson Randle indeed fouls Minnesota’s Andre Hollins with 0:00.4 remaining in a tie ball game if Bright’s playing. That was just an unfortunate play.

(Side Note: disturbing trend that we’ve now seen this happen multiple times this season: Fullerton twice did it at UW and Normam Powell of UCLA against Cal Poly – you forgot UCLA lost to Cal Poly didn’t you?)

So the good news is they get Aaron Bright back. He returned on 12/2 against Denver U; just trying to get a feel again, playing 15 minutes to the tune of 3 points and 3 turnovers. Frankly, to date, Bright hasn’t played well. He’s putting up career highs in TO% and DR% and lows in ORtg and eFG%. Bright could play brighter and I believe this is a good sign for the Cardinal. Success while an integral piece struggles is a key indicator for improved production.

Conversely, Dwight Powell has played great. But it’s not being talked about. Powell ranks in the top-15 in the conference in PPG, RPG, FG%, eFG%, FTrate, and DR%. He’s making things happen. Prior to season’s tip, much was made of this team’s pieces and who needed to step up. They’ve unfortunately lost Anthony Brown for the season but Powell is filling his role and they’ve found a dynamic stopper in Brown’s stead. Josh Huestis is playing the role of bad man for the Cardinal, swatting shots and gobbling rebounds. As a group, this team seems to excel at such. And it ultimately should come as no surprise that a Johnny Dawkins team can defend. Scoring will and has been an issue for his teams and that’s perhaps where Bright’s absence and struggles have been most heavily felt.

But back to the new question. Have I really outlined a dreary Cardinal report here? Is this a team that should go unmentioned when we discuss whether or not the Pac-12 can compete for more than two bids? Do the Cardinal like their spot? My impression is that Stanford will gladly fly where curious eyes won’t gander; where they can tighten their D and hone their O and take an unsuspecting Pac-12 by storm come January.

Week Two at All Buffs: Showing Up for the Game

As I mentioned last week, I’m doing a weekly wrap at AllBuffs. This week I don’t think Buffalo fans walked out of Lawrence particularly happy with their squad’s performance (54-90 hurts) but they did walk out. That’s to say, by one man’s account, he couldn’t remember more opposing fans in Phog Allen Fieldhouse than what CU delivered this weekend. I love that and commend Buffs Nation for such.

After discussing what traveling on the road means for your program, I continued on to discuss what really was a disappointing week in the Pac. I’m really not digging what’s going on in Seattle. It appears apathetic and effortless – not the cool kind of Michael Jordan effortless but the kind where the performance appears to be devoid of try.

Alas, without further ado, Week 2 on All Buffs.