Coming at you from Dallas, the Big D, and home of the 2014 Final Four. I’m here for professional obligations because on occasion I’m an adult but you’d never guess by the grin above my chin and the unadulterated joy with which I share my Jim Nantz story each time a co-worker told me they’d “see me in Dallas.” What can I say? Boys just want to have fun and it’s almost March and even with Brandon Ashley down you can’t count Arizona out of the hunt for Jerry’s world. I still hope (expect?) to see Jim in Dallas and this week’s contest should be pretty telling just how fit the Wildcats are for that journey. Along with a number of other teams. Last week went nearly chalk which suggests this weekend we’re about to see something like a player-fan fight or a gay guy in the NFL. Wait, those happened last week? Well, further kudos to Michael Sam, I suspect you’ll win championships and I hope you do.
GotW: This is the kind of weekend and the point in the season where teams can really start to set themselves apart or decide ah-fuggit-let’s-make-this-another-cluster-mess. And so in the spirit of the latter I’m going to say ah-fuggit and – for the first time in PacHoops history – CALL THIS A DOUBLE GOTW WEEKEND! boom. Because Arizona @ ASU is a rivalry game and the last for Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski and Colorado @ UCLA is the first real test for the Buffs in their post-Dinwiddie lives. A life they’re just starting to figure out unlike any character on GIRLS. First allow us the duel in the desert in which the Wildcats haven’t yielded a contest to the Herbivores since Josiah Turner. Furthermore, the collective point differential since Turner has been Arizona +55. No, of late it hasn’t been a heated contest but we’re still GotW-ing this one because Wells Fargo just sold out for the second time ever (the other was for a Bieber concert) and features two teams that hate each other on a Friday night at prime dinner reservations time on a day dedicated to love. Furthermore, February 14th is the birthday of the State of Arizona. Larry Scott doesn’t get everything right, but he got this one spot on. HOORAY LOVE! But then, of course, we can also treat ourselves to a second helping (though chronologically this would be our first) of GotW. The Buffs are 3-0 since their four game Mayoral Hangover (that’s what we call the period after Spencer Dinwiddie hurt himself) and Xavier Johnson appears to be “in the right mindset” (PacHoops refresher course: A heated Johnson spout off about not being in the right mindset following their loss in Tucson and then subsequent loss in Tempe). During this win streak, Johnson is doing this with the basketball: 19.33 ppg and 9.67rpg. I must mention that this has all occurred inside The Keg which is Tad Boyle’s Disneyworld and that Colorado hasn’t won at UCLA since [joke about Rick Neuheisel]. And speaking of UCLA, the Bruins have played just 7 KenPom top-50 teams and won only 3 of them. They’re a very talented team – particularly if they can get anything out of Tony Parker – but they haven’t done themselves a ton of resume favors. While we don’t love to cite the RPI, the committee does and Colorado is the holder of a very solid #24 RPI. So with all that said, this one bodes well for UCLA’s tournament seeding and conversely for Colorado’s confidence. They’re out of the hangover phase so they’re more than likely back to their opponent-be-damned-swaggy ways.
Game to Avoid: Since there are two games of the week there probably has to be one game to avoid this weekend. I’m not going to pick on the Cougars as they’ve got DaVonte Lacy back and playing great basketball. He scored 34 on Colorado last week and is putting up 22 per game since his return. He’s good and with Stanford and Cal visiting Pullman, just about anything could happen especially should either of the Bay schools decide to be a part of the ah-fuggit-let’s-make-this-another-cluster-mess campaign. And so it’s with a heavy heart that the game I encourage you to avoid if you have to avoid one is: The Civil War. Collectively the Beavers and Ducks have lost four straight. That’s not even bad it’s just the fashion in which they’ve lost. Craig’s team was 5-4 and then got swept in the desert which was an expected frosting to that 5-and-4 cake. The Beavers are about who we thought they were: talented and poorly coached. Meanwhile, what the Duck is going on? *drops mic*
Something to Prove: “You’re hot then you’re cold. You can’t defend then you can. You Richard Solomon then you don’t.” That’s the chorus from Katy Perry’s 2009 ‘Hot N Cold’ about the 2014 Cal Bears. Brilliant foresight from the bombshell and quite accurate. After starting 5-0, then losing three straight, then beating the #1 team in the country, then losing at home to Stanford, Perry said it more artistically but that’s some inconsistent play. I tend to believe they are more the 5-0, beat Arizona team than the get-blown-out-by-Stanford crew but that’s why they’ve got something to prove. This weekend they travel to the Washingtons which WANE called the easiest road trip in the conference. But it’s a road trip nevertheless so Monty’s group is going to have to regroup. This is, of course, a team led by two seniors which is a dynamic I love. Justin Cobbs is going to be difficult to keep off many end-of-season lists for what he’s doing for this enigmatic team. Meanwhile, Richard Solomon who was rendered a ghost against Stanford (1-7, 6pts, 4 fls), will undoubtedly get a chance to get his grove back against two very thin front courts. After all, the Washington schools are the two worst in the Pac-12 at defending the rim and Solomon takes a hearty 58% of his shots there while connecting on greater than 70% of them. The Bears have proven themselves road warriors already this season, winning their first three conference road games, so playing and winning isn’t the concern. It’s which Bear team will show up?
Something to Lose: I’d considered adding the following commentary to the above proof section but decided that I think higher of the Utah Utes than that. They’re good. They’re good and they haven’t won a single road game this season but on Thursday night they play the worst the Pac-12’s got. The Utes have something to lose because I expect them to win this game. I love the way they’ve responded after losing what I thought was a back breaker in Boulder (convincingly swept the Washingtons) and I love that they get USC first this weekend. Looking bigger picture, they already beat UCLA once, so why the hell not a second time? Sports often plays out the give-an-inch-take-a-mile principle and so if the Utes think they can then they might. The concern is that they might not think they can win a road game so escaping the Galen Center will be huge for them. But I also think they’re supposed to. It will be the classic battle of fire and ice or however you’d prefer me to make a metaphor out of a game featuring a slow team (Utah: 256th longest possessions, 239th in tempo) vs. faster team (USC: 22nd shortest possessions, 54th in tempo).
TheYouTuber: He didn’t win his third consecutive gold but let’s revisit Shaun White’s 2010 winning run through the half pipe and if you’re so inclined ask me about my Shaun White story: