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Thirteen things to watch in the Pac-12’s ’13

Conference play kicks off tonight and I’ve compiled thirteen things to behold in ’13. From individual games to storylines, this is shaping up to be one helluva season – one far more fruitful and talented than what transpired last season.

I’ve no doubt missed things. Or left things off (have I tossed in the USC towel?). So catch these and chime in with others.

The List:

  1. Colorado at Oregon, February 7 – These two squared off thrice a season ago with CU squeaking out two, one-point victories (including in the Pac-12 tournament). Both seem to be on similar trajectories under third year coaches and this would appear to be a budding rivalry. Prediction: These squads split, holding court at home, and both dance. Andre Roberson gets the better of the Arsalan Kazemi but Tony Woods takes the pup, Josh Scott, to task. The outside shot the Buffs have of sweeping this one? Askia Booker gets DGAF hot in Eugene.
  2. Arizona at ASU, January 19 – I don’t think this stands to be much of a game but Jahii Carson recently anointed himself top-PG in the Pac and Mark Lyons caught wind of it. There was evidently some twitter back and forth culminating in Carson citing that the fifth year senior should already be in The League. Unfortunately, I’ll be on an airplane for this one. At least I’ll have a seatbelt on. Prediction: Mark Lyons gets into the chest – defensively – and head of Carson and though the freshman manages 14 points, he also has six turnovers in the Sun Devils’ blowout loss. Arizona avenges last season’s late loss in Tempe and some Wildcat, I’m unsure who, will dunk on Jordan Bachynski. Hard.
  3. Cal at Stanford, January 19– Any time Monty returns it has to conjure up the old days for Cardinal fans; although in my last two trips to Maples almost no one has been there. I mean, there was literally a kid sitting fully spread out icing his ankle in the student section when I was there in 2011. But despite that history, Stanford knocked off the Bears in the season’s final game to keep them from a conference championship. Revenge will be on mind. Prediction: The Cardinal win this one and sweep the season series and there’s a sudden and growing displeasure surrounding the Montgomery-era in Berkeley.
  4. Arizona at UCLA, March 2 – Just look at those names. It’s a sexy matchup. Of late, however, it’s been anything but attractive as the two programs have experienced some mediocrity and turmoil. That narrative is exhausted. The new narrative, for at least a brief while, was that each program was back. We know that story, too. And now, as conference play begins, there are even more questions swirling about Westwood while people are still waiting to see just how good these Wildcats are. However you slice, this game will not be short of intrigue. Game Day and I will be in attendance. Prediction: My buddies and I have an absolute blast taking LA by storm and while the Bruins absolutely have the talent to whoop Arizona, the long road to March will have worn on the Bruins and their six-ish-man rotation (Tony Parker will transfer). At that point the Arizona baby bigs will have come into their own and, while not dominant, are able to put up numbers on the Family Wear. Cats pass their final test en route to the Dance and just might break the Bruins’ back in New Pauley. I’ll clap seven times to that.
  5. UCLA – This stuff is fascinating. I’m serious. We make up the storylines and then they manifest themselves in the most complex of ways. Shakespeare himself wouldn’t take Howland off the hot seat, toss him back on, and then beat Missouri. It’s impossible to contextualize this group of Bruins and grossly confusing. Sometimes they play defense (Ben!). Sometimes they run-and-gun (McCray!). I suppose this is a team with that version of wild-eyed crazy you want nothing to do with because they’re capable of beating anyone (Mizzou), losing to anyone (Cal Poly), and everything in between. Prediction: The Bruins will have a respectable year but what they’re really looking for full-scale respect. Something they’ve lost over the past few years and while the talented pieces they can roll out may frighten you, there isn’t the appropriate air about the program. Howland will be dismissed and UCLA strikes out on their attempts at some high profile hires and ultimately lands on a very good hire who maybe doesn’t WOW the LA media but will win basketball games.
  6. POY Race – I kinda think last year the Pac-12 ought to have forgone this award. They awarded it to Jorge as a career achievement prize and good on him but it overwhelmingly highlighted the league’s down year. This season, we’re already staring down the barrel of some really talented and intriguing players. Brock is putting up better numbers than a year ago and Jahii Carson is doing some impressive things in Tempe. Allen Crabbe is scoring points like it’s going out of style and I’m curious what happens if Shabazz keeps up his current pace as we suspect he might. Interestingly, three of the top teams are ridiculously balanced in Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona. Each squad features holistic attack not necessarily dominated by a single, POY-esque player. The Ducks have six players averaging nine-or-more points per game! That’s to say, none of these contenders will likely feature a POY but should taste great success. Prediction: The POY will hail from the 3-5 place finishing team. That’s to say I think Crabbe, Adams, Muhammad, and perhaps a surprising Cardinal makes a run at it. Brock gets shut out of the POY race once again because he doesn’t have the pieces around him to garner such an award and Jahii Carson learns the same tough lesson. When the dust of the conference season settles, we’ll find that Crabbe is the POY amongst many deserving candidates.
  7. You! – Go to an away game. Wear your colors in the middle of enemy territory and have drinks in the localest of bars you can find. Don’t – I repeat DO NOT – be an asshole. Embrace the fact that they don’t like you and you them, don’t make it personal, and root like hell for your team to win so your chest can waltz out of there the puffiest its ever been. The roadies I’ve traveled to have been some of my favorites: surprising my brother in Seattle last year just in time to see Gonzaga take AZ behind the woodshed; both trips to Pauley with my dad while I was in college in which the ‘Cats were demolished; the lap we did around Wells Fargo as Miller’s first team beat the Devils by 19; my brother’s first trip to visit in SF and the triple OT thriller in Haas two years ago. Grab some friends, a couple of nosebleed tickets and make it happen. Holler at me if the Bay Area happens to be your roadie of choice. I’m there. Do the same for the P12 Tourney in Vegas. Prediction: A weekend plan gets cancelled as a Friday is winding down at a Friday pace. You gchat your buddy who says fuggit and you both hop in the car and head to the Bay. You shout at me and we take the City by storm before attending whichever of the Saturday matchups you prefer (Berkeley by BART, Palo Alto by auto). The game’s a blast because both of those schools are going to present formidable competition and then we return to SF and run back Friday. Then we do the same for 4 nights in Vegas in March.
  8. The Unknown – Are you kidding me? Something mind-blowing is going to happen this season and it’s going to shift a significant chunk of thinking. Could it be the red hot Cardinal? What about their complete implosion? I propose the same for Robinson and his Beavers in Corvallis. Warming seats and hot hands and we’ll get to see all of it. Literally all of it. Larry promised! Prediction: One of ASU, OSU, and WSU will finish amongst the Top-6; someone you didn’t expect to get fired, does; one team wins a game on a 45-plus foot buzzer beater; and…forget this! I can’t predict the unpredictable beyond predicting that something unpredictable will occur and then we can revel in it together because this is sport and it’s precisely why we watch. Long live competition.
  9. Brock Motum – Watch him because no one else is. This guy is a one man wrecking crew and there’s really no secret about it beyond being lost in the Pacific Northwest. He’s one of the most used players in the nation (ninth and seventh in % of possessions and shots) and has maintained the level of efficiency he wowed us with last season. Things are rough coming out of Pullman but Brock is to be celebrated. And feared. Prediction: The Aussie leads his team to a respectable finish and a healthy run through Vegas. Nothing too fancy but the Cougs overachieve and he provides us with a wealth of knowledge we can drop on unsuspecting persons when we’re subtly one-upping them with our sports knowledge. 2019 Him: Yeah, Ian Thorpe is probably the greatest Australian…. 2019 You: Sure the Thorpedo was grand but Phelps took him to task. Do you realize that Brock Motum twice lead the Pac-12 – that’s some 156 scholarship athletes – in scoring and never won a POY award. Once he dropped 88-points on Kevin O’Neill’s Trojans and then taught them how to surf. And wrestle a shark. What a guy. Guaranteed that’s a conversation you’ll have.
  10. Toasty Chairs – I’m very rarely going to be one to call for a given firing, but I also feel I understand the nature of this college sports thing and the inertia surrounding a Head Coach. That said, in order to keep things moving at both LA schools, a change may be in order. Those appear to be the most volatile right now but the success of teams in Seattle, Pullman, Corvallis, Palo Alto, and Tempe should be paid attention to. A level of expectations hasn’t quite been met or a time frame not exactly fulfilled and things could be getting a touch spicy in those spots. I really do not foresee much by way of coaching hunts (goodness those are exhilarating if it’s not your program) but should that lead seat inside Pauley Pavilion become available, expect some big changes across the Pac. Prediction: Los Angeles finds itself coachless. UCLA will enter a hunt that has the college basketball world – particularly the Pac-12 – holding its breath. UCLA’s hiring, if done right, will no longer allow Pac teams to meddle around like winning is a 55% of the time thing. The following year, 2013-14, will open many more seats. Also, when USC relieves Kevin O’Neill of his duties, there’s a chance they make a splash hire that would dramatically turn heads.
  11. The Networks – Take advantage of this new resource to us. The games will be televised and that’s awesome; but to be frank, it’s 2013, and I expect to be able to see any game I want. I think the beautiful advantage the Pac-12 Networks allots us is the full-tilt, 360-degree coverage. From all things digital and comprehensive, we’re exposed to how modern media should be handled: online, offline, and everything in between. But read PacHoops, too, k? Prediction: DirectTV deal gets done over the summer as the Pac-12 pushes a softer bargain and DirectTV succumbs to the concept that they’re slowly becoming irrelevant in the modern era of ubiquitous and free media and the cable/satellite monopolies become increasingly aware of their dwindling state.
  12. Who’s Number 2? – The conference is Arizona’s to lose and after them there’s a smorgasbord of teams vying for that second spot. I find Colorado, Oregon, and UCLA in no particular order to be the favorites for this spot. I’ve previously stated that Stanford would be that team but they just haven’t impressed enough to garner my faith. At one point I kinda dug Cal – but they lost to Harvard at home! Anyhow, it’s going to be a wide-open race and as we mentioned in point #8, anything could happen. Prediction: Colorado. But I’ll elaborate to the point where I say four Pac teams dance (Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA) with a pretty good shot at five dancing, the fifth being Stanford. I really think they have the most intriguing pieces; the next step will just be some consistency. I think that could come with extended PT for Aaron Bright who had been returning from injury in the midst of the Cardinal’s OOC.
  13. The Old Guys – I’ve been pumping the seniors’ agenda since before the season began and, to date, few have let me down. Solomon Hill has been playing the complete game we came to expect and Carrick Felix has been nothing short of fantastic; while Jio Fontan has left plenty to be desired and EJ Singler has been good, not great. Larry Drew II has been a pleasant surprise in Westwood and there’s Brock. But now we’ve come to their final conference season. The part of the schedule where players cement legacies, become legendary, and embark on a home stretch of effort. Prediction: I already stated that Brock will guide the Cougars to exceed expectations. I think Solomon Hill stays his current course and EJ Singler will have a big conference year (at least bigger than his 10/5/3). Unfortunately Jio is who Jio. LDII’s numbers are nice but they aren’t going to make a difference for the Bruins if Shabazz and Anderson are going to struggle. Some senior is going to piece together a stretch run a la Carlon Brown, Kyle Fogg, or Devoe Joseph from last year. I love it.