Monthly Archives: January 2013

Week 3 Pac-12 Hoops Preview: SWA WiFi Anyone?

There are three ranked Pac-12 teams and that is based on merit and not preseason expectations. How. Do. You. Like. Them. Apples.

It won’t last long as two of them square off this weekend but hey, it’s been a really great week, right? But it’s shaping up to be a strange one, too. I haven’t had an adult beverage since before midnight on Saturday (I think) and there are only four midweek games. It all just seems so odd. Of course a mild midweek means we have a spicy Saturday. A day during which I will be shelling out whatever SWA charges me for WiFi while I fly to DC. Anyone know if streaming on a flight is just a lost cause? I’m trying regardless but let me know how its treated you (@pachoopsab). I can’t do the DVR-and-watch-it-later thing. The moment those front tires hit I’m off Airplane mode (I don’t power down) and right to checking scores. I’ll get the rundown later. I’m results oriented.

Anyhow, here’s my snippets on those midweek-ers for PacificTakes including a great Bob Cantu joke. Then there’s this stuff:

Game of the Week: My hand’s are tied here. I literally have no choice with this one. I can’t pick either of the rivalry games (Arizona @ ASU and Cal @ Stanford). I’m not allowed to pick…well, ok those are really my only other options and…the point I’m trying to get at and the lead I’ve buried, is the fact that Saturday’s Oregon-UCLA game will be the first game featuring two ranked Pac-12 teams since March of 2009. How do I insert one of those blushing, embarrassed emojis here? I mean, it’s 21 v. 24 which ain’t much to bat your eyes at but hey it’s something and that’s certainly more than nothing. But if we set aside the fact that the outside world may look at this as a really cute little matchup, the reality is that this is a big game. I don’t think anyone is completely sold on either team and this is a very big conference test for both squads. Oregon certainly showed their mettle beating Arizona last week and the Bruins just keep grinding. It will be interesting to see how UCLA handles Oregon’s frontline as well as their depth. Also, I’m curious as to whether or not we’ll see the Thursday night EJ Singler (14/7/7 against Arizona) or Sunday EJ (7/2/2 on 1-9 shooting against ASU)?

Game to Avoid: To be fair, I can’t tell if a game featuring two winless teams is an avoidable or attractive offense. Are we drawn to it like rubber necking a car wreck or is it a scenario where the last two girls in the bar are bickering over you and you probably should just bolt? Whatever it is, my gut tells me that you have better things to do on Wednesday. Utah deserves a win for having played really well in 75% of their conference games. But it is worth noting that by beating the Utes by 17, Kevin O’Neill was fired. Ouch.

Something to Prove: You! I’m pointing at you Tad Boyle and your 1-3 Buffaloes. That start is not as disappointing as it would appear but 1-4 is a ditch you don’t want to be in. The Huskies are playing well but they aren’t yet striking fear into anyone – losing to Albany wont can’t escape them any faster than Herpes. So this is the Buffs chance to right their lightly off-kilter ship. Perhaps some offensive adjustments because I really do believe they’re well squared away defensively. It’s these offensive lulls where Josh Scott doesn’t touch the ball or Askia becomes far too much of an inefficient volume shooter in a possession conscious offense. Alas, Wednesday is step one to recapture the attention of the Pac-12 audience. The Dawg Pound will be rocking (UW hasn’t played in Seattle since 12/22) to add to the adversity heap; but what don’t killya makes ya stronger. The same story holds true for the Stanford Cardinal. These guys have underwhelmed to date and play 1-3 hosts to cross-Bay rivals, Cal. A win here and we can start re-imagnining the Cardinal as a team contending for a spot in the big dance, start believing they’re pissed off for greatness (I might use that every single time until I believe they’re actually pissed).

Something to Lose: The Arizona Wildcats head on the road to face what’s shaping up to be a potentially very good ASU team. If conference play evokes strange results, then the same can be said about rivalry games. And then some. Just ask these Wildcats about their last trip to Tempe. It was March 2012 and the Cats needed just to beat a nine win Sun Devil team. They didn’t and wound up not dancing for just the second time in my life. My impression is that stung and that Sean Miller won’t be quick to remind his team about that. But the Sun Devils won’t soon make this a cake walk for their friends from the South. The Wildcats are the better team here and should be expected to win and avenge that tourney costing loss a season ago. A repeat performance, however, would spark a lot of questions about the Cats.

The YouTuber: The original of this commercial is ridiculous enough. Good edit.

The Battle for LA in Pat Haden’s Office

Please let me know if you have not heard of the following basketball players. I’ll be happy to tell you all about them:

But odds are you have heard of these players who never played a single minute for a university in their home city of Los Angeles. They played as Longhorns, Wildcats, Aztecs, even Sun Devils; but not one was a Bruin or Trojan.

So in the wake of Kevin O’Neill’s dismal at USC, the collective eyes of West Coast basketball settle onto the administrative offices of Pat Haden. Here is a man with the potential to restructure Pac-12 hoops with ripple effects across every conference on this coast; his own conference not withstanding. It’s no secret that Los Angeles produces talent and that the Pac-12 is a down conference today. Such a combination would appear to make a seat in the Galen Center a desirable one. Should that coach begin to garner the talent that has seemingly “fallen through the cracks” (Jamaal Franklin, Kendall Williams, all of the above), well then there are games to be won.

Of course there is the case of the cross-town and mighty Bruins. Owners of a pyramid and infinitesimal championships, it’s assumed they snatch up the major talent and leave pittance for the rest. Not true.

Ben Howland has burnt just about every possible bridge in what is to be considered his breadbasket. Don’t believe me? Of Howland’s recruiting classes since 2008, he has secured eleven commitments from Californians. Of these Golden Staters, just two (Norman Powell and Jerime Anderson) are on the roster or remained four years and one was a first round one-and-done (Jrue Holiday). These three cases we can argue are successful. Beyond that is where it gets ugly: two left shockingly early to be second round picks (Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee); two were dismissed from the team (Anthony Stover and Reeves Nelson); and four have transferred (Brendon Lane, De’End Paker, Drew Gordon, and Tyler Lamb). Howland’s potentially program altering 2012 class? Zero Californians. I could put the same critique to KO and his recruiting at USC but when you run the unsustainable model of accepting oodles of transfers, losing six games, and playing under NCAA sanctions, recruiting become a bit of an afterthought.

It’s this very local ineptitude that has me fascinated with this USC coaching a hunt. A home run here will put the heat on UCLA. Can the biggest program on the west coast –if not the country – really play second recruiting fiddle at home? I’m not questioning whether or not UCLA is a better job than USC – I’m taking the UCLA job seven days a week and twice on Sunday – but the Trojans have the opportunity to become LA’s team and to be regularly successful without having to do much work. Meanwhile in Westwood, a national recruiting hunt and association with the perceived dirtiest recruitments ever gets exhausting. It screams “no identity.” Wanna hear some names that played in those three Final Fours we still talk about? Afflalo, Shipp, Collison, Farmar, Roll, Mata-Real, Westbrook, Bozeman, Hollins. Some fun Trojan names from 06-09 with a 68-37 record? Young, Pruitt, Hackett, Jefferson, Derozan All of the aforementioned were contributing LA kids.

The last four Gatorade California HS Players of the year are all in college. None are in Los Angeles. This fact has Sean Miller, Tad Boyle, Steve Fisher, and every other coach in a less-than-talent-rich area salivating. There’s already significant questioning surrounding what’s happening behind Dan Guerrero’s door and I have to imagine he’s thinking hard about what to do.

So Pat Haden has a list and with that list I believe he will dictate a lot more than the bank account and real estate maneuvering of a man on that list. He has the opportunity to seismically shift Pac-12 basketball. But more finitely:

The battle for Los Angeles is on.

Week 2 Pac-12 Hoops Review

Last night I saw Silver Linings Playbook. Last month I saw The Hunger Games. Today I am in love with Jennifer Lawrence. This is far less surprising than, say, an undefeated on the road Washington Huskies team. She’s gorgeous and these are great and entertaining films (respectively speaking). Conversely, the Dawgs have been far from gorgeous or entertaining at times. Their Albany gaffe and the as-reported-to-me lackluster home crowds would be examples of such. But they’re winning and that’s PacHoops’ favorite statistic. And they serve as a further lead here as Silver Linings is a movie that dives deep into the pains of mental illness. Bradley Cooper plays the role of a bipolar man struggling to keep it together. His life seemingly in shambles, he spends his days plotting to get back together with his wife; an end result he believes will fix everything. Enter the stunning a equally dysfunctional Jennifer Lawrence. Together, whether they see it as such or not, they seek some semblance of solace amongst their crumbling lives. Arguably some consistency and familiarity. Perhaps not unlike a Tuesday-Saturday schedule and the familiar foes of the Pac-12. To date, the analogy plays.

And I’ll leave this teaser of a lead with this: In the Hunger Games – where people run amuck in the forest seeking to kill one another until there is one surviving – there are 12 participants. Boom.

**Since publication, Kevin O’Neill was fired at USC. I’ll be weighing in shortly because this is a big deal.

Leader in the Clubhouse: Well the Oregon Ducks have sure opened up conference play with a bang. On Thursday they jumped on the Beat-the-Unbeatens bandwagon started by Boise State in Wyoming and were soon joined by the NC State Wolves and OSU Buckeyes. Then beat ASU. I like what Oregon’s done and the above speaks to my feelings about Washington. But it’s hard to keep the undefeated UCLA Bruins out of my top spot. They may be methodical and jump shot dependent but they’ve taken care of the schedule impressively. Whatever the back story, they will always be UCLA and are going to get everyone’s biggest swing. They’ve handled four such blows. Additionally, can we just go ahead and say that Jordan Adams is really good? He and teammate Shabazz Muhammad have such tremendous command of their mid-range game which is wildly impressive for two freshmen. It will be curious to see the sustainability of this Bruin streak as their depth and interior play remain question marks. They’ll likely (if it hasn’t been announced already) jump into the top-25 along with Oregon this week and that will be a lovely publicity spike for this little conference that could. Of course then those two tip off next week possibly knocking one or the other back out of the rankings. Can’t win ’em all (ask Sean Miller, too soon?).

GotW: For tip-to-buzzer entertainment value, the GotW will be handed to Washington over Stanford on Saturday night. This tilt featured fifteen lead changes and nine ties and CJ Wilcox going off. While individual efforts are rarely the recipe for victory, goodness do I love those. The junior, who is prone to big shooting nights, had himself quite a trip to the Bay in leading the Dawgs to a sweep. Both Oregon games were good as was UCLA at Colorado. To be honest, there was little flashy to the weekend. Certainly nothing that compares to the second half of the Seahawks-Falcons game.

The Big Loser: I remember last year having to write about the Stanford Cardinal a lot more often than I would have liked in this segment. They were a really odd team one season ago – entering conference play with a tidy 10-2 record and beginning to look the part of a contender. Then they jumped out to a 5-1 conference start and things were looking really nice. They would finish the season 10-8 in conference. They fell apart before rediscovering themselves in the NIT and giving us all hope of a terrific, wire-to-wire, 2012-13. So what’s to be learned of this? Perhaps this is just a really enigmatic group – bipolar, if you will. Unable to capture an identity and run with it. Whatever you want to make of it, and expectations aside, the Cardinal are now 1-3 in conference play with a home loss on their schedule.

What We Learned: ASU is for real. This is not a team to sleep on and from what I’ve seen of them to date versus a season ago is they just play smarter (insert shocked face here). They’re playing improved defense which will generally help anyone’s case to be a better or contending team. This weekend they demonstrated that they are for real, that their 14-3 start is not necessarily a fluke. They handled Oregon State for forty minutes and gave the Ducks all they could handle. Back to the smart fact: the Devils have cut their turnover rate by 8%. That’s to say they keep the basketball 8% more often which is HUGE for an offense the hovers below the D-1 tempo average. Possessions are precious to Herb.

Start of the Week YouTuber: From earlier this week and from a sworn Pac-12 enemy. But my goodness…

The Mighty Fall While the Mighty of Size Struggle

Well we certainly never thought Nick Johnson was an elite ball handler and so when he entered a brace of Ducks (yes, that’s officially what you call a group of ducks) with a chance to win or tie a game late for the fourth time this season, he couldn’t.

And that’s OK. It’s by no means the crowning moment of defeat. The Wildcats did little beyond show up to try to win that game. While saying such has a tinge of sour grapes, it’s hard to say the fourth ranked team in the country did their thing and got beat at it when good chunks of the game were spent gazing at a 2-3 zone. But credit where it’s due. The Ducks were the one’s playing that zone and playing it actively; allowing it to be anchored by the Woods and Austin, the two of whom possess length to rival Interstate-10. Impressive to say the least.

And for all my senior bravado speak let’s discuss EJ Singler. Conference play has begun and the senior is going for 15/8/4 across two games. For sweet cliche’s sake, he’s stepped up, risen to the challenge, and he’s come to play. I respect that.

But perhaps the most interesting part about that game was that Oregon showed no fear of the Wildcats. Arizona came out with a haymaker, an 11-0 run with equal parts defensive and laser efficient shooting and all appeared well for the Red Team. A Dana Altman timeout sought to cool the run only to have Waverly Austin turn the ball over leading to a Lyons layup. And then the Ducks rattled off 41-19 punishment which won them the game. Quarter by quarter, if you will, the game scores were 22-20, 8-21, 20-19, and 16-10. Arizona beat the Ducks in each of those except in that critical second quarter during which Oregon was flat out the better team.

I made a note that Arizona allows just 23% of the field goals they yield to be at the rim. While I don’t have the exact stats regarding shots at the rim for the Ducks Thursday night, I do know that their three contributing bigs (Waverly, Woods, Kazemi) combined for 22 points and 14 rebounds. Arizona’s three biggens? 7/11. Generally not a recipe for victory.

Last week Miller made no bones about the fact that Ashley, Tarczewski, and Jerrett need to improve. For Arizona to compete for the things they want to compete for, they must.

And there was a moment last night that I thought sort of captured the way of these freshmen. Mark Lyons made a good move to get into the belly of the zone and was driving across the lane. He’d previously been blocked seemingly countless times and had come to learn his lesson. He drew and handful of defenders and the zone bust appeared to be coming into full effect. There was the for Jerrett to have the ball delivered to him on a platter for a two handed flush or at least to draw a foul or do something really tight that no body even knows of. Whatever he was to do, he was not supposed to drift to the three point line.

The ball wound up amongst the beautiful Oregon cheerleaders and not in Grant’s hands. On the television we could see Lyons’ frustration as he explained to the 6’11” jump shooter that he needs to be a 6’11” force. Because he can. And will.

This is a part of the learning curve. It’s no secret Arizona’s recipe involves savvy vets playing well and some talented pups to just play. When the latter half of that equation makes its leap – not even a leap to great but to anything-better-than-7-points-and-11-boards – this will be a frightening team. Hell, they’re 14-1 with question marks abound.

And while that first loss tastes bitter, the best palate cleanse is to learn.

Arizona at Oregon: Ducks and Cats on Top of Trees

The Wildcats are traveling to Eugene and Corvallis this weekend for the first time since the Pac became a twelver. In advance of this inaugural appearance inside Matthew Knight, the guys over at Addicted to Quack invited me onto their Podcast and didn’t ask me to ramble but I did all over this Wildcat team, the matchup with the Ducks, and even got me to speak about the Tempe school.

Listen to it with your ears.

And watch Thursday’s game with your eyes because it’s lining up to be a good one. While it seems the Cats may have lost some steam heading into this bout, I think the fact they stumbled through last weekend makes this game even more intriguing. There’s that common argument, maybe the most frustrating one in the world, that an undefeated team should lose a game here or there. You know, to keep their edge or whatever. If that’s indeed the case, what Arizona managed to do last weekend was lose without adding a loss to the record. No wonder they’re ranked as one of the most efficient teams in the nation!

The Duck’s could’ve added to the intrigue-meter by not losing at UTEP in an assortment of overtimes but hey, Chip Kelly’s coming back, so things aren’t at all bad in Eugene.

Interestingly, there isn’t much here by way of storylines between these two schools. Or at least not of a late. Dana Altman appears to be a polite man and Matt Court – as I learned on the ATQ podcast – has yet to meet it’s full  potential as a home court advantage. The Ducks’ old home was vicious. It’s been awhile since these two squared off as two formidable opponents.

For this one I’ve also stumbled across my inner stat geek which just adds to game anticipation (I see you @jgisland). Did you know that Arizona allows just 23% of the shots taken against them to be attempted “at the rim?” That’s fifteenth best in the nation at protecting the bucket from easy stuff like layups and dunks. Conversely, DYK that Oregon takes 40% of their shots from that very space Arizona does such a good job of keeping people away from?

Holy contrast Batman, we’ve got opposing styles!

Each of these squads is dedicated to their system, a tribute to the coaches and the number of transfers from their respective programs early in their tenures. Each has taken heat on that subject but that tends to be the reality of today’s college sport. And maybe they’ve missed on some recruits, which is a byproduct of rushed evaluations and the need for bodies during a regime change.

But that’s too far down the recruiting rabbit hole that I generally don’t venture down. Except the two times I went to see Chase Budinger and last year when I watched Aaron Gordon.

Anyhow, we’re prepped to have a good one. Some Cats and Ducks runnin’ around atop some trees.

Note: Stats from this article were courtesy of this ridiculously comprehensive site: http://www.hoop-math.com/index.html

 

Pac-12 Week 2 Preview: BCS Titles and the Road

Damn this previews-due-on-Wednesday thing is a real quick turnaround but it ultimately just means we get to spread our watching out. I do love the routine of Thursday-Saturday but also appreciate the expansive television draw the league and network gain by not having games overlapped all Thursday night. Grinding out previews and reviews will be tough…

But unlike a Notre Dame defense, I’m up to the task.

I was hoping to get to attend my first Pac-12 game of the season Wednesday but it’s my pal’s birthday and so the two Bay Area games will likely be taken in peripherally. I don’t know what elements of mayhem this birthday celebration will get us in to but it can’t get much wilder than a monitor review in Tucson (still too soon?).

Anyhow, at the time of this writing (Tuesday night) I was tied with UCLA for number of road games played at zero. Yeah, you read that right. UCLA hasn’t played a single away game this season and while their trip to Houston to play Texas could be considered semi-road, the paltry 2,797 attendees barely qualifies it as a game, tree-noise-forest. Regardless, Ben’s Boys are winners of seven straight and somewhat surprisingly unranked after beating Missouri amidst that streak.

Enough fun facts. Some previews snippets and it:

Game of the Weekend: The nod easily goes to Arizona’s first trip into Matt Court. Indeed the Wildcats have never played upon the trees and are winless against the Ducks as members of the Pac-12. I even read a tweet that a Vegas book keeper thinks this will be Arizona’s first loss. That, my friends, is a recipe for intrigue. And then getting down to it, these are two teams that match up pretty interestingly. Both squads spread things out pretty evenly as Oregon has six players scoring 8 or more points per game and Arizona has five such stand outs. Both make a concerted effort on the defensive end and while Arizona finds their way to victories on the perimeter (38% of shots from three at a 38% make rate), the Ducks are going to come at the Cats in the paint (just 29% from deep at a 31% clip). STATS! This game is ultimately a battle for momentum in a Pac-12 battle that is Arizona’s to lose. And I’ll be damned if winning don’t matter for something. Following my discussion with ATQ’s Dave and Matt, I’m excited to see what a bumping Matt Knight experience looks like as those two ducks confirmed for me that this is the biggest game to hit that tree’d court since its inception and the since Dana donned the sidelines in Eugene.

Game to Avoid: Call me a Pac-12 homer but this is a tough one. I can derive story lines in just about every single game but that’s probably just because I’m the preeminent Pac-12 hoops blogger out there(?). Ha, that was arrogance stolen from Lost Angeles who’s moved on to Bachelor recaps (hilarious) after a disappointing USC football season. But seriously, eye balling the weekend there isn’t anything grossly abysmal but I can’t not (yes, double negative) look at USC’s visit to Salt Lake. These two teams combined for 12 wins last year and, for lack of a worse term, that’s god-awfully-tragically-rock-bottom. But a season removed from that crap, these two haven’t done too much to shift our thinking. Good on the Utes for already surpassing the six-win mark as well as their morally victorious trip to the Grand Canyon State. The Utes are on their way up from a really low, low. Meanwhile, the 6-9 Trojans have disappointed even though they’ve played the 10th toughest schedule in the nation. I can try and pump these two as formidable foes but until either one does something to boot the homer talk and get legit, there ain’t much to discuss.

Something to Prove: The California Golden Bears. Are they elite, average, or poor. It’s like Goldie Locks’ damn porridge bowls, and beds; I can’t tell if these guys are good, average, or bad. On the one hand, they have some tremendous talents in Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. On the other, they can’t hold home court against Harvard; who may be an up-and-up program but who should not beat a Mike Montgomery team on its home court. So this weekend, when the Cal Bears host arguably the easiest of any of the travel companions, anything less than a sweep would be time for panic and the start of a dialogue I’m keeping an eye on: What to make of the Monty-in-Berkeley-era? As I’ve said, we’re very early in the season and I could see Cal being remarkably competitive with a consistent Ty Wallace, but they’re not there yet and they really should be. This weekend will be their best opportunity to prove they mean business.

Something to Lose: This early in the season, I can’t say there is a ton at stake but the Stanford Cardinal have a lot to lose this weekend. I’ve long thought of them as a sleeping giant in this improving Pac-12 and they’ve done little to make me believe they’re vastly improved from last season’s 26-win, NIT championship squad. Frankly, I think this team is a lot better than they’ve played to date and while they own competitive losses to Mizzou and NC State, they also wear losses to Belmont and USC; schools that have combined for two BCS victories including Stanford’s loss at USC. To this point, I’m too high on the Cardinal’s pieces to imagine they need to fight their way back into the mix but their 0-2 start doesn’t exactly instill confidence before they host a less than intimidating Washington faction. Anything less than a sweep for the Cardinal and I have to imagine the rest of the season’s games become must wins. Yeah, we drop “must win” in week 2 at PacHoops.

The YouTuber: I can’t get enough of this and maybe I’m late to the party on this but the Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach was, well…a big kid. Enjoy it:

Week 1 Pac-12 Hoops Review

Well, well, well. If it isn’t conference play back and in our Thursday/Saturday faces. I enjoyed a grand chunk of Pac-12 hoops this weekend and while I’m still on the fence about these Wednesday games, I can totally get behind Sunday games and I definitively don’t miss FSN. Did any of you catch the Civil War game last night? The game itself was alright, the Ducks showed off some scoring depth and acumen, while Oregon State sorta confirmed they’re defenseless. Alas, the point being, I was inundated with VALUES.com ads (are those even advertisements? PSAs?) like this one and I’m pretty certain that I now have no interest in passing anything on to anyone. Did you watch the video yet? WHAT IS THAT?

Back to the hoops because by Friday morning, every game had been within five-points with under five to play and I wasn’t hungover. By Sunday night, nearly the same! Saturday’s games had a moderate ho hum about them but offered us a glimpse into a world where maybe the Utah Utes aren’t abysmal and maybe UCLA is just a really good team that had some growing pains.

Alas, solid first weekend of conference play, let’s head to the monitors to take a look at it (too soon?):

Leader in the Clubhouse: Based on their body of work, one has to consider the undefeated Wildcats here but seeing as how this is more of a week to week commentary, I have to say UCLA was the most fear striking team out there. If we’re to take Sean Miller’s word for it and believe Arizona is approaching the number one ranking in KenPom’s luck rankings (they’re 36th), then I’m not entirely sure I’m willing to call Arizona a leader after that weekend. Not to say they aren’t good or definitely the best team in the conference, but UCLA handling the Bay schools was most impressive to me. What makes me cringe however, and gives merit to the claims that Howland’s program is a joyless one, was the expressionless Bruin faces after each victory. They appeared robotic rolling thru handshakes which doesn’t really get me feeling one way or the other, just maybe that this team makes it way through this fascinating season with mechanical efficiency. Slice it however you will and I’m probably looking far too deep into far too little. Of course, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good…

Game of the Weekend: That little tilt down in Tucson Thursday night sure was an interesting one. It was expected to be the biggest game of the first weekend on paper and lived up to the hype and would later have the sports media world abuzz. And this guy’s commentary. I’m not one for harping on officiating as it’s a difficult job, blah, blah, blah…and to blame the stripes over and over and over is without a doubt the biggest little brother move anyone can do. But man, that one sure appeared to be blown. Colorado was the benefactor of a last second officiating gaffe last year, this stuff happens. But the game itself was a tremendous display of defensive brilliance and effort by the Buffs who held Arizona’s big three of Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson, and Mark Lyons to just 2-18 shooting before the tone of the game switched and the Wildcats decided to make a comeback. That’s where we got to see Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons play like the vaunted seniors we expect them to be. They scored a combined 24 across regulation’s final nine minutes (that’s 17 more points than the team combined to score in the games first eleven minutes), and accounted for half of Arizona’s overtime output. That’s senior leadership and that’s how you do special things. The Wildcats escaped with another tight one that the Buffs just might be face-palming about later this season.

The Big Loser: The two biggest candidates here have got to be Colorado and Stanford as the only two-loss teams in the conference. I’d also consider throwing Washington State, USC and Oregon State’s names into the hat as they each now possess home losses. By my nature (grossly neurotic) decisions frighten me but I’m not inclined to call the Colorado Buffaloes losers this week. For a grand chunk of their time in McKale they were the better team and arguably had that one ripped out their hands. Their Tempe time was a little different and I really think ASU just beat them but if I’m Colorado, I have to think there are still enough positive takeaways to not be too down on this weekend. Also because Stanford kinda just got beat all weekend. They didn’t execute down the stretch against USC, a game they got 0/2/2 and 3 turnovers in just 15 minutes from Chasson Randle, and were just not nearly as good as UCLA. The Cardinal were a team I thought would be clicking a little better than they currently are. To be certain, they don’t appear to be a team all that pissed off for greatness.

What We Learned: I think this weekend went a long way in confirming the company line each coach has been pumping since August: The Conference is improved. Few if any have gone so far as to say the Pac is “good” but they can get behind “improved” which is basically saying that none of these teams historically suck again. A fact I think we are starting to see. Utah played two very tough games in Arizona and Jason Washburn and Jordan Loveridge appear to be the real deal. Arizona State took a couple shots from Colorado and, by games end, had flipped the defensive script on the Buffs and won the ball game. I have no resounding commentary on the Apple Cup rivalry other than it played out like a good rivalry game should and that those two (UW and WSU) aren’t going to be doing too much this season by way of getting the Pac considered “good.” But, on the whole, this is an improved conference.

Start of the Week YouTuber: All right, I’ll confess the following: 1) By posting a video surrounding the monitor mishap, I’m being a hypocrite and propagating an uncontrollable event from the past. But this video is great. 2) This is video is hosted by Vimeo and not YouTube. So sue me.

Arizona Colorado from DJ K3G on Vimeo.

 

Ghost Blog: Jack Gardner on Utah v. Arizona

Arizona hosts the Utah Utes Saturday afternoon. This is a rivalry that takes me back a spell and I have some couch memories of Arizona v. some Van Horn squads. I was also in Anaheim for the first of two crushing Elite Eight losses in that arena. That’s always fun to rehash. No it’s not.

Alas, with these two squaring off again and a season removed from Utah nearly knocking off the ‘Cats in McKale…

Friends and fellow Pac-12 fans: Please excuse this interruption.

I am the Ghost of Jack Gardner. I have taken possession of Mr. Butler’s mortal body and this blog in order to share with you some thoughts about the Runnin’ Utes this year.

As you are well aware, the Utes recently suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of Arizona State. They now head to Tucson for another herculean test. In anticipation of the matchup against Arizona and in order to help you get to know this Utah team, I wanted give my perspecive.

I understand a priest is already on his way to Mr. Butler’s home with the holy water and book of ancient rites. So without further ado, here’s my breakdown:

The Utes had a tough loss against ASU on Wednesday night. Arizona squeaked out a victory against Colorado. Utah is still learning how to win close games. Arizona wills itself to win close games, even those games it seemingly has no business winning. I would be shocked if the Utes give Arizona much trouble. But if the game does happen to be close, I don’t see Utah having the “clutchability” to defeat a more talented Arizona team. In all of Utah’s losses this year, except for the road loss at SMU, Utah’s offense broke down when the game tightened up. So what do I expect to see Saturday afternoon?

Andre Miller is not walking through that door. Utah is a much better team than it was last year. Jordan Loveridge is a good-looking freshman who will have a great career at Utah. Senior Jason Washburn had 19 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 blocks against ASU on Wednesday night, and Cedric Martin is a “glue guy” who plays tough defense. But this is not Majerus’ Utes. Utah does not have the talent to stay with Arizona. Not even the triangle and two can save the Utes this year, especially in Tucson.

Utah plays tough defense. Utah has played an inside-out man-to-man about 85-90% of the time this year. Utah is one of the few teams that switches most screens, which can create mismatches inside. But then it sags its bigs inside where Washburn and the other big guys can help. Most of Washburn’s blocks last game came out of this scheme, coming over to help an over-matched teammate. This worked well against ASU because the Sun Devils couldn’t shoot well from the outside (4-18 from three) and Utah could suck everyone in around the basket. But when teams hit their outside shots, then the Utes have to extend the defense. When the Utes are forced to extend its defense, this opens up driving lanes and teams have hurt the Utes with driving layups and drives and kick-outs for open threes.

When Utah doesn’t go man-to-man, it plays a tight two/three zone and dares teams to beat them from the outside. The Utes don’t press much, though they did effectively implement a 3/4 court trap in the second game against SMU, which changes momentum and helped Utah beat SMU in the second game of their home and home with the Mustangs (yes, Utah played SMU twice). I don’t expect Utah to try to press Arizona.

Utah doesn’t have a go to guy. The Utes don’t have a single go-to guy when the game tightens up. In close games, the offense tightens up and the Utes struggle to get good shots. And Utah does not have a single player who can create his own shot. In the ASU game, Utah went to Washburn twice in its final possession and he threw up a  couple of 12 foot hook shots in the middle of the lane. Jarred DuBois, a senior transfer from Loyola Marymount, has tried to take over in close games. But he has not been successful in trying to carry that load. Loveridge has the potential to be “the guy,” but he isn’t there quite yet.

Utah is successful when it controls the tempo. If Utah can control the tempo and keep the game in the 50s or low 60s, it has a chance to keep the game close. Utah did a good job controlling the tempo in its overtime loss at ASU. But Arizona knows how to win games. Utah doesn’t. Even if Utah manages to keep the game close, these simple facts will make the chances of a Utah victory in the range of slim to none.

You are invited to follow more of my ghostly rantings at my blogsite: www.tgojg.blogspot.com. But for now I must be going before I end up in a herd of swine.

So yeah while the Utes did give Arizona some fits last year in both contests, they are a far different team now and they’re coming off a game that I think just might light a fire under their arse.

Arizona rolls.

BB: The Monitor Mishap in McKale

Someone this morning asked me if I was in “Wildcat heaven.”

Without hesitation, not a second of doubt because I have no idea how to process what transpired on the court in McKale, I replied, “No.” That was a game in which Arizona didn’t hold a lead for 41-minutes. That’s not OK. It was a game gifted to the Wildcats by three men looking at something it appeared no one else saw.

That was one of the more interesting basketball games I’ve witnessed in some time as it was equal parts defensive beauty, offensive ineptitude, and raw drama of sport. In short: a clusterbang. The Monitor Mishap in McKale.

So as I mull more and more on this game I find less and less to take away from it. I’m only certain that there’s a faction of fans in Boulder, Colorado that are really pissed off and another in Tucson, Arizona that are really relieved.

And the latter faction comes under attack for “losing” that game. To that, being an Arizona fan, I say have that game. Take it. ‘Twas ugly and frustrating and I return to the previously used clusterbang and from a procedural standpoint I see no reason to be particularly happy about it as a Wildcat beyond the fact that it’s been confirmed you’d better put that arrow squarely and deeply into Arizona’s collective achilles if you intend to beat them.

A basketball season is too short to focus on the uncontrollable. Control what you can and be good at it. Today, the Wildcats get to control their preparation for the Utah Utes.

I suggest the Buffs focus on Arizona State.

Because the stage is now set for what Colorado fans are already calling the “Valentine’s Day Massacre.” They’ve set up a countdown (I love that) and are not all too happy with Thursday’s outcome. There will be a second squaring off following this controversial outcome inducing a Coors Event Center welcoming of Sean Miller’s squad that’s ear splitting and full of vitriol and contempt.

Like any good rivalry should.

Some Pre-Season, Post-Non-Conference Picks

With Conference play tipping off tonight last night, the fellas at RTC and I compiled what I would call our Pre-Season-Post-Non-Conference-Schedule predictions. With a twelve-to-thirteen game sampling from each team and player, we made new-ish predictions on how the league is going to shape out. Here is the aggregation of our picks.

As for me, I don’t think I went particularly crazy here. I really think CU edges UCLA out of the second slot and I’m not buying ASU’s hot start. It’s worth noting here that I will forever be sad that Brock Motum won’t realistically win the POY award. Just a bummer cause he’s really good and fun to watch. I just might have a Foster’s in his honor.

Anyhow, here’s how I picked the league and some other All-This-That-and-the-Other Teams:

Conference Standings:

1.     Arizona

2.     Colorado

3.     UCLA

4.     Oregon

5.     Stanford

6.     California

7.     Oregon State

8.     Arizona State

9.     Washington State

10.  USC

11.  Washington

12.  Utah

All-Conference:

  • PG  Jahii Carson
  • G Allen Crabbe
  • F Shabazz Muhammad
  • F Solomon Hill
  • F Brock Motum

All-Freshman:

  • PG Jahii Carson
  • G Jordan Adams
  • F Shabazz Muhammad
  • F Jordan Loveridge
  • C Josh Scott

All-Defense:

  • PG Dominic Artis
  • G Nick Johnson
  • F Josh Huestis
  • F Arsalan Kazemi
  • C Jordan Bachynski

Coach of the Year:

  • Dana Altman

Player of the Year:

  • Allen Crabbe

Freshman of the Year:

  • Shabazz Muhammad

All-Surprise Team:

  • PG Dominic Artis
  • G Jordan Adams
  • F Josh Huestis
  • F Jonathan Gilling
  • C Jordan Bachynski

All-Disappointment Team:

  • PG Jio Fontan
  • G Ahmad Starks
  • G Chasson Randle
  • F Aaron Fuller
  • C Josh Smith

All-Improved Team:

  • G Nick Johnson
  • G Roberto Nelson
  • F Dwight Powell
  • F Carrick Felix
  • C Jordan Bachynski

All-Upside (most room for improvement into conference season):

  • PG Aaron Bright
  • G JT Terrell
  • F EJ Singler
  • F Brandon Ashley
  • F Tyrone Wallace

Game of the Year (to this point):

  • Florida at Arizona: the game was hyped as the biggest of the OOC schedule and lived up to the billing. McKale was rocking as if the ‘Cats were a top-10 tea— wait, they are. OK, so it appeared as if things were back to normal in Tucson until Arizona spent much of the game playing catch-up. With the final possession and the ball in their fearless, gamer’s hands, the Wildcats managed to knock off the Gators.

Game of the Year (in conference):

  • Arizona at UCLA – This should be the game of the year in the second to last weekend with Game Day in town and a whole lot of talent on the floor. I think it’s safe to assume Arizona will be a contender but no one seems to know what we’ll get out of UCLA. If recent history serves us well, this will indeed be a ball game.