Yesterday saw the announcement of the conference’s superlatives. It’s probably the third heaviest day of debate behind only Selection Sunday and the day in November when the preseason poll is dropped. But we can rank other things, too. Or, more aptly said, we can note a lot of the other great things that happened this season under the auspices that even more are coming (March). This is why we watched and remained so closely engaged. Great season.
Top 5 Moments
- Cobbs sinks Arizona – In some regards, shots like this had become commonplace. I’d seen Cobbs step back for the win what seemingly became always. But the reality is that making fading jumpers with seven-feet and an arm coming at you is anything but commonplace. Neither is knocking off undefeateds.
- Euro-step on a Jayhawk’s neck - Circled on Buffalo calendars for months – if not years – this one meant something. Colorado was a Kansas stepping stone for eons; Boulder the mountainous respite for the midlanders of Lawrence. Back-and-forth and then a sideline in-bounds and two dribbles. Euro step. Rush.
- Block-chynski, three times over - He’s now your Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and he perhaps locked that up by not once but thrice dismissing the would be game-tying or winning shot. Walk off blocks. He did it first against Marquette and then again Mutumbo’d Joseph Young’s attempt to tie. But then his biggest. The second ranked arch-rivals were in town and on Valentines Day. Fittingly, the national animal of Canada is the badger and Honey Bachynski don’t give a shit, blocking his ninth shot to seal the win and a premature court storming.
- Dotson steal, dunk, gamer – It was the first game of the conference season (or at least the first that I saw) and it came down to the final possession, a stolen basketball, a dunk, and a dog pile. In this play alone we could write out the narratives of half the conference and it came on the first game of the season. Like I said, good. effing. season.
- TBD – We haven’t yet played the Pac-12 tournament. So…full credit to UCLA?
Top 5 Games
- #1 Arizona @ Cal - Read this in your best Gus Johnson voice, “COBBS! SHAKE. STEP BACK…AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! AT THE BUZZER. J COBBS! COLD BLOODED.” Amiright, Husky fans? Goosebumps. Yeah, it may have been my team, but it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it.
- #10 Oregon @ #20 Colorado - I’m not positive if you’ve been paying close attention but the last handful of seasons haven’t been particularly elite. Furthermore, the pace of the game has slowed significantly, such that the NCAA has changed the rules to pick scoring up. Those notes considered, to have Oregon and Colorado square off in a top-20 battle and the final score read 100-91? Well I thought I was in heaven.
- Oregon @ UCLA - I really don’t care whether or not Slo-Mo or Jordan Adams played. This game involved a near Twin Killing. And that’s not even the proper use of that idiom but when you’ve got a full court baseball heave from one human of identical DNA as the heave’s recipient who then hits a game tying three-pointer as time expires? That’s amazing.
- #6 Kansas @ Colorado – I said as much when discussing the moment, but this one meant something to the Buffs. How’s this for a quote: “Deep down I bleed Jayhawk blood,” Boyle said, “but now I’m 100 percent Buffalo to the core.”
- #1 Arizona @ Michigan – What more do you need to know other than that at one point in the season, Michigan, SDSU, UCLA, Utah, Colorado and Stanford were a combined 83-11 at home. The Arizona Wildcats accounted for 6 of those losses. “The toughest teams survive,” Sean Miller once told his team. And so he brought them to Ann Arbor - I went, too – and by the time everyone left, Jim Nantz told me he’d see us in Dallas. Great ball game.
Top 5 Stories
- Brandon Ashley’s Foot – You can’t read an Arizona narrative without hearing about their offense and how it’s either changed or regressed since Ashley hurt his foot. I mean, Arizona never lost a game Ashley played more than two minutes in. That’s a walk-on stat. Not the kind of stat of a 12 and 7 guy. The Arizona story was such that people were discussing their undefeated season and whether or not it could be the greatest Arizona team ever. That all changed in Berkeley on February 1st. The Wildcats (and considering our move #2 below), however, can still put to rest the ‘what if’ stories. But what if…
- Spencer Dinwiddie’s Knee – At halftime in Seattle, not much more than thirty minutes after The Mayor went down, the Colorado Buffaloes still stood a nearly 75% chance of winning that ball game. They were promptly outscored by 17 in the next 10 minutes of basketball. And this was what we were to expect the rest of the Colorado season. They would lose three of their next four and look far from competitive. But Xavier Johnson caught fire, Josh Scott got gooder, Askia Booker transformed and the Buffs would finish the season in an impressive fifth place.
- Steve Alford – It’s a big job and the shoes are even bigger. Nine men have tried to sit in John Wooden’s seat. By comparison, there have been just thirteen head coaches ever in the history of Arizona basketball. Eleven at Washington. They’ve run a conference champion out. Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham – the winnigest by win percentage in school history – lasted a combined four seasons. They’ve won 36 conference titles, danced 45 times and won 11 of them. It’s a big job and it’s Steve Alford’s now.
- Delon Wright and the Utes - They were projected to finish ninth and they finished eighth. Whoopie do! But look me in the blog and tell me you’re not impressed with Utah. I am. That wasn’t your average eighth place finish and where did Delon Wright come from? I mean, I know he came from City College of San Francisco, but where did a 122 ORtg on 23.5% usage come from? Or, more traditionally, 16ppg, 7rpg, and 5apg come from? How about 2.6 steals and 1.3 blocks? Yeah, it all seemingly came out of nowhere and so now I ask: Who wants to play the Utes in Vegas?
- Stanfords Pursuit of the Dance – In 2012 they won the NIT in convincing fashion with a core of sophomores and we were excited! Oh how pissed off for greatness these budding trees were. And then 2013 saw essentially the same roster go 17-14 in the regular season; 9-9 in conference play. They were ousted in the second round of the tournament they were defending. Then seniors. Returning 80% of their minutes, I asked Johnny Dawkins, “What’s going to be different?” His answer didn’t impress me. He said they would be thinking about things differently. And now I ask you, faithful Pac-12 fan: Have the Cardinal thought differently enough to garner their first NCAA tournament since 2008?
Top 5 Seniors
- CJ Wilcox – I could watch this guy take jumpers for days. He’s sixth all-time in Pac-12 three pointers made.
- Roberto Nelson - His coach said he was fit for the beer leagues and then played him the most minutes on the team. In the storied history of OSU basketball, Nelson is the fourth leading scorer, a spot ahead of AC Green.
- Justin Cobbs - Pac-12 coaches can now breath a little easier in late game situations as the iciest veins this conference has seen in some time departs.
- Jordan Bachynski – The conference’s all-time leading shot blocker. Additionally, Jordan has one of the finest career makeovers we’ve ever seen.
- Dwight Powell – Developed year-over-year and has one of the most exciting skill sets in the conference. Embodied the Stanford student-athlete.
Top 5 Moves
- Transition Bruins - Steve Alford’s 2013-14 UCLA team, his first in Westwood, was a complete deviation from his general coaching resume (contrary to what some make up). And it worked. He had never coached a faster team (70.3 possessions per game) and 27.2% of their offense came in transition. His highest percentage at New Mexico (as far back as those stats go) was 19.5%. This was also the most efficient offense he has ever coached: 1.15 points per possession.
- York into the Starting Lineup - All the season long, Sean Miller took the obviouis route of starting his most talented roster. He did it for 22 games, why change that philosophy now that Brandon Ashley was out for the season? So Rondae Hollis-Jefferson began starting. In their first four games without Ashley (including Cal), the Wildcats put up 1.01 points per possession (their season ppp is 1.12). Further, if you remove one game against the defenseless Beavers, that number drops to an ugly 0.94 ppp. Enter: Gabe York, the starter. And Arizona out on the break. Mark Titus would call it Christ Air and the Wildcats would begin to get into transition more (~25% of offense since York, ~19% before) and put up 1.01, 1.33, 1.28, and 1.18 ppp in those first four games. York’s also putting up an additional point per game and…ready for this…he’s averaging 4.3 boards, double his season average.
- Booker: The Evolution – He’s a shooter. You might even say a shot chucker, a loose cannon that’s never seen a shot he wouldn’t take. But that had to change when Spencer Dinwiddie went down with injury. And change it did. I documented it all here but note that Booker was central to helping Colorado very likely earn it’s third straight NCAA bid by changing the game he’s so often criticized for.
- Powell: The Evolution - I don’t know that it’s a good one but it’s a noticeable one. In this season of “thinking differently” in Palo Alto, Johnny Dawkins also had his hyper-athletic power forward become the offensive facilitator. He handily lead the team in assists (3.2/game) and assist rate (21.7%), both significant career highs. This ultimately moved him further from the basket (lowest percentage of shots at the rim in his career) but Stanford also posted their highest ORtg in Powell’s career at the school.
- Whatever this means, but something changed and it worked, too - “You pulled together,” Altman told the Ducks in the locker room. “You pulled together and found a way. We’ve won seven games in a row, and it’s you guys. It’s you guys. It’s your character, it’s your toughness — that’s what changed. We didn’t do anything differently. You guys said, ‘We’re not going to allow this. We’re going to dig down deep and we’re going to find a way.'” Dana Altman after beating Arizona.