Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Pac-12 Mascots Death Match

In the inaugural season of the world’s preeminent Pac-12 basketball blog, we saw the First Ever Pac-12 Coaches Death Match. It presented a horrifically hard fought battle that saw Sean “Whooping” Miller walk away the winner. And now we’re pitting the mascots against one another because it’s tournament time, we need to pick things, we need more anthropomorphism.

mascotHere’s what I did. I reached out to friends of the world’s preeminent Pac-12 basketball blog to explain to us why their favorite mascot would win. They did and I’m appreciative. Read on to see how each crushed it. We’ll keep the same seeding and format as the basketball tournament in Vegas. Other than that, there are no rules. It’s a death match.

And now the writers have got the anthropomorphs’ backs. Here we go:

#8 Swoop vs. #9 Dubs

Swoop_Dubs

Dubs from Jack Follman of Pacific Takes
The Husky mascots used to be fluffy balls of poof that were not even intimidating to a two-year old junior Dawg fan, but Dubs is a different beast. Built for the modern era, Dubs is svelte, speedy, ferocious and regularly outruns the entire Husky football team down the sidelines as the run out of the tunnel at home games on Saturdays. Most importantly though, Dubs is a Husky and huskies take part in a little something called the Iditarod which is a race that is longer than 1,000 miles in the coldest place in the entire country. Obviously Dubs hasn’t taken place in this race, but he has the blood of his hardy ancestors who have ran the race that regularly kills competitors coursing through his veins.

Swoop from Robby Jackson of Utah Scout
Swoop, the mascot for the Utah Utes, is not a member of the Ute Indian tribe and as a matter of fact, he doesn’t have anything to do with the Utes. But, he is our mascot and despite how random he may be, we’ve got a soft spot in our hearts for Swoop. Most red-tailed hawks have wings because you know, they’re birds, but Swoop is blessed with enormous arms that would most definitely win many arm wrestling matches against a duck, beaver, sun-devil or a tree. To make up for his lack of wings, Swoop also has red laser beam eyes that burn the logo of the opposition during the halftime at Utah basketball games. Find me a bear, husky, wildcat, cougar, trojan or a buffalo that can withstand the heat of laser hawk eyes and I’ll find you a liar. Though he may look more like a chicken than a hawk, Swoop aint nothing to play with.

#8 Swoop vs. #9 Dubs

  • #8 Swoop (60%, 154 Votes)
  • #9 Dubs (40%, 102 Votes)

Total Voters: 256

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#5 Chip vs. #12 TravelerChip_Traveler

Chip from Ben Burrow of Rumblin Buff
I guess, ostensibly, I’m supposed to be talking about Chip, our Mickey Mouse with horns made available for the kiddies.  However, if you’re going to talk University of Colorado athletics, there is only one mascot that matters – the ton of rampaging bison known as Ralphie.  Often a source of confusion, let me confirm that Ralphie is, in fact, a female.  It’s an important distinction, because, if we were to let a male bison loose, death would ensue; after all, a buffalo is an unstoppable goring machine when pissed off.  With the lady involved, we’re only talking serious bodily harm, if you’re lucky.  So, come at me with your anthropomorphic plush toys.  I got a frickin’ buffalo, and you don’t.

Traveler from Jacob Freedman of Galen Central
The best part about Traveler is that he’s less of a mascot, and more of an actual, real-life horse capable of inflicting havoc. There’s no costume, no student inside and if you ask me, a horse is much more powerful than the dogs and cats we see across the Pac-12. He’s also cunning; we’ve all heard the story about the Trojan Horse. Just as he stomps the ground of the Coliseum before every fourth quarter, he would stomp his way all over the other mascots, whether they be animals, trees, or a Ute.

#5 Chip vs. #12 Traveler

  • #5 Chip (86%, 255 Votes)
  • #12 Traveler (14%, 41 Votes)

Total Voters: 296

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#7 Puddles vs. #10 Benny

Benny_Puddles

Puddles from Matt of Addicted to Quack
Ducks are ferocious fighters.  They have the ability to fight both on land as well as in water.  Their beaks are their main weapons but also a great defense mechanism. To understand Puddle’s manliness and ability to win a fight, first you have to realize he doesn’t wear pants.  I mean seriously, you know you’re pretty proud of your manhood if you’re going to go around 24/7 without pants on.  And do you really want to start a fight with someone that isn’t wearing pants?  Second, there’s only been one other time that another mascot has dared to challenge Puddles.  Let’s just say that didn’t end well for him.

Benny from Connor Pelton of Rush the Court
Benny is a beaver, so by definition he is one of the most badass animals in the wild. His versatility cannot be rivaled, from dam building to speed. I also have a feeling that the committee may underseed him, but similar to the NCAA Tournament, that will hurt his opponent more than anybody. Benny is a player and he’ll put up if you try and take his girl. So vote for him, because players gotta play.

#7 Puddles vs. #10 Benny

  • #7 Puddles (50%, 118 Votes)
  • #10 Benny (50%, 116 Votes)

Total Voters: 234

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#6 The Tree vs. #11 Butch

ButchTree

The Tree from Kevin Danna of Pac-12 Networks and the NBADL
The Tree don’t concern itself with human concerns like mascot deathmatches. Ralphie, Sparky, Oski and such can be as menacing as they want- what the hell are they going to do to a tree? You think Wilbur is going to be able to claw through a 200-year-old redwood, or that Sparky’s pitchfork is going to be able to get it to topple over? Ooh, a fighting duck?! Hell, hawks live in trees. The Tree will take on all 11 other mascots at once and win by not doing a damn thing. So while all the other mascots try to kill each other with assorted sharp objects and body parts, the Tree will roll up a fatty, smoke one of his own kind and win by attrition.  The only lumberjacks I see reside in the Big Sky and Southland.

Butch from Michael Preston of Coug Center
He looked more badass before his costume change (made in the name of safety) but Butch T. Cougar is still all that embodies WSU. The dude rides an ATV at full blast onto the field before a football game for cripes sake. He has been known to photo bomb even the most carefully planned sorority pose picture and he isn’t shy about acting his age…which we don’t know but we assume he’s in his rambunctious teenage years. More important than any of that is how much he’s beloved by every single WSU fan from ages 3 to 103. He’s one of the best known mascot in the country for a reason: everyone, even visiting fans, want a picture with the gregarious fella with the long tail. Do you see any other Pac-12 mascot pop up on your Facebook feed as often as him? I didn’t think so.

#6 The Tree vs. #11 Butch

  • #11 Butch (53%, 119 Votes)
  • #6 The Tree (47%, 107 Votes)

Total Voters: 226

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Pac-12 Conference Awards: Top 5 Lists

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

  1. 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.USATSI_7709655_221257_lowres-001
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. TBD – We haven’t yet played the Pac-12 tournament. So…full credit to UCLA?


Top 5 Games

  1. #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.
  2. #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.
  3. 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.
  4. #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.”
  5. #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

  1. 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…
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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

  1. CJ Wilcox –  I could watch this guy take jumpers for days. He’s sixth all-time in Pac-12 three pointers made.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Jordan Bachynski – The conference’s all-time leading shot blocker. Additionally, Jordan has one of the finest career makeovers we’ve ever seen.JordanB
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Pac-12 Conference Awards: Traditional Ones

I submitted the following to the Rush the Court Pac-12 Microsite for conference awards. The conference released theirs as voted on by smarter men – the coaches – than I. Let me tell you, picking these sorts of things is tough. Do you realize how stacked the Pac-12 backcourts are? Damyean Dotson, Jason Calliste, DaVonte Lacy, TJ McConnell, etc. aren’t even noted here. Alas, this was my ballot. Then, if you bear with me to the end of the post, I was passed along my preseason All-Conference picks. How’d I do?

All-Conference Teams/POY: A list of the top 15 players which was used to calculate the first, second, and third teams. I listed Johnson first as he is my Pac-12 Player of the Year.

  1. Nick Johnson (POY)
  2. Kyle Anderson
  3. Delon Wright
  4. CJ Wilcox
  5. Aaron Gordon
  6. Jordan Adams
  7. Jahii Carson
  8. Justin Cobbs
  9. Joseph Young
  10. Chasson Randle
  11. Josh Scott
  12. Byron Wesley
  13. Dwight Powell
  14. Mike Moser
  15. Jordan Bachynski

COY: Sean Miller – Big hat tip here to Tad Boyle and Larry Krystkowiak with a mention of Herb Sendek and Steve Alford. Tad kept his team together in the face of a terrible injury and Utah was the most competitive  8-10 we’ve seen in a long time. Herb finished third so he gets noted and I continue to be impressed with Alford’s adjustment to the cards he was dealt (he created a transition monster which is like no other team he’s coached). But Miller wins my COY because, well, for most of the season the Wildcats were the best team in the country, they’ve continued to play fantastic defense (best in the country and easily the best in the conference), and he’s reinvented his offense following the loss of Brandon Ashley for the season.

Newcomer of Year: Delon Wright – Maybe my favorite player in the league but in all likelihood he’s my second favorite (I see you Nickie J). Now the reasons I chose to Johnson for POY was because he was the lead for his team. Delon Wright can do that, too. He’s a jump shot away from being unstoppable. He effects the game on both sides of the ball and is a huge reason for Utah’s first 20-win season in forever.

All-Freshman Team/FOY: Naturally, Aaron Gordon is my FOY.

  1. Aaron Grodon (FOY)
  2. Nigel Williams-Goss
  3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
  4. Zach LaVine
  5. Bryce Alford

All-Defensive Team/DPOY: Johnson gets my vote for dPOY as well.

  1. Nick Johnson (dPOY)
  2. Aaron Gordon
  3. Josh Huestis
  4. Jordan Bachynski
  5. Delon Wright

Sixth-Man: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – It made sense for him to move into the starting lineup until it made more sense for him to continue to come off the bench.

Most Improved: DaVonte Lacy – What this guy did in 2013-14 goes overlooked because of an injury at the beginning of conference play and who he plays for. But the junior improved in nearly every offensive category. A glance:

Ortg %Poss eFG% TS% Stl% FT% FG% 3FG%
2014 112.1 27.5 54.4 60.1 2.4 82.8 42.8 38.6
2013 105.8 20.4 52.8 56 1.9 68.8 41.1 37.7

Favorite Player of the Year. A player who didn’t get votes for any of the other positions but, for whatever reason, ya just really think he’s great. My pick:

Askia Booker – He isn’t the best player on this team. He’s neither the most efficient (Dinwiddie), effective (Scott), or dynamic (Johnson). But he just might be the most important player for the Colorado Buffaloes. Despite all of those things other players are, Booker still leads the team in usage for two consecutive seasons. He frustrates you because of this but it comes with a confidence and swagger that Colorado needs. Booker has been on campus for three years now and Colorado will now have gone to three consecutive NCAA tournaments. Furthermore – and this probably sealed it as my favorite – he’s adjusted his game since Spencer Dinwiddie went down with injury. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Booker is the hero Colorado deserves and needs.

Pre-Season Picks These are the picks I made and submitted to the All Buffs team. I like the make up of my first team. That group collectively had about a second team performance, however. If I’m playing GM, I still like that team a lot so long as my coach doesn’t relegate Powell to point-forward duties. No facilitating. Just banging.

All-Conference:

  1. Jordan Adams
  2. Jahii Carson
  3. Spencer Dinwiddie
  4. Mike Moser
  5. Dwight Powell

Conference Standings: This is why I love baseball. Two-of-twelve success is only a three game slump. Not a complete disaster.

  1. Arizona
  2. Oregon (UCLA)
  3. Colorado (ASU)
  4. UCLA (Cal)
  5. Cal (Colorado)
  6. Stanford
  7. ASU (Oregon)
  8. Washington (Utah)
  9. Oregon State (Washington)
  10. Utah (Oregon State)
  11. USC (WSU)
  12. WSU (USC)

Week 10 Pac-12 Hoops Review

I’ve been pumping this “weird things in March” dialogue because it’s pretty central to why we’re such big fans of college basketball. We watch this month through a different lens with even the minutiae dramatized. But Saturday did happen. A regular season finale that saw two overtime games, the Bay schools win by a combined two points, #3 go down, and a good old fashioned whooping in the Palouse (hint: UCLA scored 55 points). Prior to that day I was pretty caught up in the sudden winning ways of road teams. A deviation from the Pac-12’s norm. So naturally Saturday saw a home sweep but not without the aforementioned drama and March. Don’t you love it? And don’t you hate Daylight Savings?

Leader in the Clubhouse: I’ll take this thing back to the hottest team model in order to effuse on the run the Oregon Ducks are on. They were dead. Essentially written off, lingering only because at one point they were ranked tenth in the nation and their collapse was a fun fact you could toss around with other topsy turvy teams like Baylor and Oklahoma State. But then they won one. And another. And another. And now it’s seven straight including a road win at UCLA and the biggest win of their season, Arizona. The Oregon Ducks will be in the NCAA tournament. They’re playing their best ball of the season right now and are only the seventh team to ever hit 10-or-more threes against a Sean Miller, Arizona team. The Ducks make threes at an elite level (38.9% 3FG% is 25th best in the nation and Calliste and Young have made 125 total threes at a combined 45% clip. wow) which has led me to call them a “Mid-major with a budget.” Living and dying by the three is a tried and true method to winning games and certainly tournament success. During their seven game win streak, the Ducks are shooting 44% from distance. Of course mixing in some defense doesn’t hurt. And by some I really mean a literally just a little. Their defense over this seven game win streak has been actually worse than their season average. The Ducks’ season long defensive efficiency is 99.6. During this streak it’s 101.8. The thing to note, however, is 101 is better than the 119 efficiency they posted during their previous 5 game losing streak. All of that said, and however they’re doing it, they’ve collected seven straight of my favorite stat as we head into the post-season. The portion of the year where the only choice is to streak.

Biggest Loser: Vegas is set. The seedings are done and games will soon commence. I don’t really have the need to pick a biggest loser because upon commencement of said games, everyone has an equal shot. Clean slate. Unless of course:

Tough. Sometimes the narratives write themselves.

What We Learned: It’s over. Beds have been made and teams are now sleeping in them. Some more comfortably than others but there are now 108 games in the rearview mirror and it looks something like this:Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 6.17.51 PM

In Defense Of: My prediction of seven Pac-12 teams in the NCAA tournament. As we headed into Saturday’s slate, my prediction looked shaky. I wasn’t sure things would or could play out in the necessary fashion for everyone to survive the bubble. We are, of course, a week away from Selection Sunday when predictions of invitations will no longer be relevant. But as we sit today – with Colorado showing well in the Bay, Cal and Stanford narrowly avoiding sweeps, and Oregon beating Arizona – the Pac is a very real candidate to see more than half its members dancing. Now I certainly felt it would be a more convincing seven teams when I made this guess four months ago. But, as noted, this is how they’ve made their beds.

The YouTuber: Let’s just blame it all, everything.

Fun Facts on the Pac-12’s Penultimate Day

This weekend we’ll spring our clock’s forward which is something I don’t generally like. But think of it this way: we’re one hour closer to the tournaments! But before that, we must get through tomorrow’s regular season finale. There are still infinite permutations of what seed which teams will garner for Vegas and I’m not going to break it down. It’s insane. On Monday we’ll have our All-Conference teams announced and the madness will begin. Or has it already begun? The calendar turned three months old last Saturday and the Pac has been anything but predictable. Utah won on the road. USC won.

We’ve got one day left, here’s a quick run through some fun facts of what you can expect to see, not see, or prepare for:

  • Oregon State hasn’t been swept on the weekend at home this season. Doesn’t bode well for ASU keeping the three seed
  • The Pac-12 has a road winning percentage of 67%. Since March, Pac-12 that home win percentage is 45%. Doesn’t bode well for Stanford, Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, Cal, or Washington State.
  • The last time the Wildcats won in Eugene it was called Mac Court and the Pac-12 was a twinkle in Larry’s eye. Oregon has since built an entirely new arena. Doesn’t bode well for the Wildcats.
  • The last time I went to a Colorado-Cal game, Cal’s best player went 2-17 and still won. Doesn’t bode well for Justin Cobbs or Colorado.
  • Utah hasn’t won consecutive road conference games since visiting TCU and Wyoming in February 2009. Doesn’t bode well for the Utes.
  • In two hosting events of the Colorado Buffaloes, Cal has yielded an average of 49 points per game or 0.77 points per possession. Doesn’t bode well for the Buffs.
  • Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Stefan Nastic, John Gage, and soon-to-be-fifth-years Aaron Bright and Anthony Brown are all celebrating their senior night in Palo Alto, Saturday. Doesn’t bode well for the Utes.
  • USC is playing a game. Doesn’t bode well for the Trojans.
  • Arizona is +74 in scoring differential when playing a team for the second time this season (5-1). Doesn’t bode well for the Ducks.
  • I have an Arizona-Oregon bet with Matt. It’s cumulative points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks of Aaron Gordon vs. Mike Moser. The first match up lead to an underwhelming 16 (Moser) vs. 14 (Gordon). I’m not winning right now and Moser is averaging 18 & 11 during this 6-game winning streak by the Ducks. Doesn’t bode well for Adam.
  • There are six Pac-12 games to behold on Saturday. Bodes well for us.

What did I miss?

Three Road Wins and Fun with Graphs

Last night was as March as games not broadcast on CBS get. Every game saw a tie or lead change in the final five minutes (if not the final two minutes) and EVERY SINGLE ROAD TEAM WON. I’m not going to data mine to see if there has been a three pronged road sweep on a single night this Pac-12 season. But considering there have been only 44 road wins across 100 Pac-12 games, I don’t think we’ve seen it. Welcome to March.

Arizona @ Oregon State

I don’t know if this was a trap game or what it projected to be but I do know that there are some damn fine ball players on that Oregon State roster. They have size all over and Roberto Nelson is a scorer. Unfortunately, this was my mom’s analysis of the game, “It looked like one team had a plan and the other didn’t.” Well guess who won? Arizona did and was fortunate to do such if you’re asking their coach. He cited the Wildcats’ inability to rebound and so I present to you the expected rebounding numbers and the actuals and subsequently how Oregon State stayed in that game:Arizona_OSU

Colorado @ Stanford

If we break the game into quarters, the Colorado Buffaloes have been outscored by 45 points in the third quarter during conference play this season. That’s an average of about 2.7 points per game and worse on the road: -3.5 points, -25 collectively. Conversely, the Stanford Cardinal come out of the half and are plus 21. It’s a theme worth diving deeper into at another time but here is how last night’s battle for a bid played out:

Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Colorado 12 21 13 13
Stanford 11 17 13 15

In what appears to be that critical third quarter, the Buffs managed to play things even, maintain their lead, and subsequently close the game. Oh, and this was critical at 2:01

Utah @ California

Numbers don’t lie:

Utah RoadUtah Road 3-5Oh, and what’s going on at Cal?

WANE: End of the Year Awards

I honestly think that – despite all of the talent in the Pac-12 – Spencer and my First Team All-Conference Team would be, at best, a bubble team. Listen to agree with our selecting ineptitude. That said, our team would certainly have Delon Wright on it. No questions asked. It’s maybe not the best team, but it’s a really hard choice!

 

The Table: (but really our notes on awards which are incomplete and scatter brained)

Conference Awards:

First Team:

PG: Chasson Randle, Jahii Carson, Justin Cobbs

SG: Nick Johnson, C.J. Wilcox

SF: Aaron Gordon, Delon Wright, Josh huestis

PF: Dwight Powell, Jordan Loveridge, Kyle Anderson

C: Kaleb, Josh Scott, Richard Solomon

POY:
Kyle Anderson
Chasson Randle
Nick Johnson
Roberto Nelson
CJ Wilcox
Delon Wright

Defensive POY:
Nick Johnson
Jordan Bachynski
Jordan Adams
Aaron Gordon

 

Newcomer of the Year:
Aaron Gordon
Zach LaVine
Jermaine Marshall
Joseph Young

Coach:
Sean Miller
Steve Alford
Herb Sendek
Tad Boyle
Larry Krystkowiak (**We admittedly didn’t discuss him on the podcast)

Game of the Year:

Oregon @ UCLA (the wears almost do it game)
Arizona @ Cal (the cobbs game)
Oregon @ Utah (the dunk game)
Utah @ Colorado?
Arizona @ UCLA
Arizona @ ASU
Oregon @ ASU
ASU @ Cal
Arizona @ Stanford
UCLa @ Stanford

Performance of the Year:
40 by Jahii (<thought about that but non-con)
AG 19 and 16.

The “Brock Motum” Aussie of the Year:

Angus Brandt
James Hunter
Dexter Kernich-Drew

Name of the Year:

Angus Brandt?
Wannah Bail
Beau Gamble
Schuyler Rimmer
Omar Oraby

Where They Affect the Game: Roberto Nelson and CJ Wilcox

Between Roberto Nelson and CJ Wilcox, these tremendous seniors have weathered the worst Pac-12 storm we’ve ever seen. And that’s on a coast that rarely experiences bad storms. Across their four years, they’ve been a part of some awful conference play. Yet here they are now, on the cusp of being two of the best players in a conference possibly sending 7 teams into the Dance.

And do you realize that neither of these two would make a normal first team all-conference team? Normal would suggest a five-man squad which the Pac-12 doesn’t do so they’ve got a Pac-12 chance at first team. But these guys aren’t even top-5! Sure, neither plays on a particularly dangerous squad so they fly under the radar, ignored pretty regularly despite terrific individual numbers. I get that wins are the most important stat; but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate an individual’s efforts to try to win.

I wanted to tell each of their stories, how they affect the game. But as I worked harder into their numbers, deeper into their stories, I found some interesting parallels. And some fascinating divergence.

I’d like to begin with the parallels:

Player FG FGA FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST PTS
CJ Wilcox 6.2 13.5 0.46 0.401 0.854 3.6 2.6 18.2
Roberto Nelson 6.1 13.7 0.449 0.402 0.843 3.5 3.7 20.6

I was really excited to see these near identical outputs. The two best players on these two average teams. I mean, even their teams are nearly identical. Washington is 16-13, 8-8 and Oregon State is 15-13, 7-9. I even took a gander at their win shares: Nelson 3.7, Wilcox 4.0. Right on down the line they seem to be pretty similar. Wilcox is 6’5″ 195lbs. Nelson is 6’4″ 198lbs. Same size, same numbers, the big picture suggests they affect the game similarly.

But going a level deeper, we find our divergence.

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 10.03.50 PM

 

Simply put, Roberto gets to the rim and CJ prefers not to. If you were paying attention to the chart above, you’d have noticed they were making nearly the identical number of FGs per game (6.2 Wilcox, 6.1 Nelson). Yet, per our graph above, Nelson is taking 18.5% more two-point shots than Wilcox. How are they putting up the same number of points. If you guessed free throws, you were right. Nelson’s free throw rate is double that of Wilcox’s (56.7% vs 26.3%). And so it makes sense.

Like our Delon Wright study, Nelson is the slashing creating type. He differs from Wright in that he connects on 40% of his threes (Wright’s an atrocious 25.6%). But ultimately the two of them, as noted, are slashing and creating. Nelson’s possessions result in a play at the rim more than 40% of the time. It’s inside the paint that Nelson fights to 20.6ppg with just a sparse percentage of his shots being assisted. A little more than a third of Nelson’s shots at the rim are assisted. With Wright as our barometer, Nelson gets a slight more help from his friends. Wright has 29.4% of his rim shots assisted. For continuity’s sake, Wilcox is assisted on 45.3% of his rim buckets. These numbers suggest some self-reliance on the part of Nelson and Wright, the ability to create for oneself.

Not CJ’s strong suit. Wilcox is a phenomenal three point shooter. We noted he makes 40% of his shots from there and takes half his shots from there. That’s a productive output and why he’s 10th in the conference in eFG%. Conversely, Nelson leads the conference in usage (32% good for 21st most in the nation).

Nelson needs the ball in his hands to affect the game. Now obviously so too does CJ, but he ranks just 19th in the conference in usage, the lowest such percentage amongst the conference’s top-10 leading scorers (Wilcox is fifth). He’s a beautifully pure shooter. I’m inclined to note how often CJ’s threes are assisted but it’s actually below the D-1 average (75.3% vs 84.9%). Not exactly fulfilling our CJ-is-team-reliant narritive. But as such a great shooter (career 39.2% shooter as compared to JJ Redick’s 40.2% or Salim Stoudamire’s 45.8% – wait, Salim was that much better than JJ, sigh…)  it’s understandable that Wilcox is going to get the green light a little more often than not. Particularly as a senior with two underclassmen guards feeding him. Year-over-year, Wilcox’s percentage of assisted threes has decreased (I see you Abdul).

Ultimately, what each of these players is accomplishing is individually impressive and unique. They’ve arrived at similar destinations taking very different paths.

Neither of these seniors will win the Player of the Year award. But each has been a terrific Pac-12 basketball player, contributing to the resurgence of a conference once mired below mediocrity. It was the laughing stock of college basketball.

Today, while neither of their teams has seen great success, they’ve developed into two of the most dynamic and unique players in the conference. A part of arguably the best guard corps in the nation.

And they are seniors at the ends of their respective paths. I enjoyed watching them and I imagine you did, too. They did great. Good luck.

How Deep is Your Love: The Bench Misnomer

The following is a comprehensive guest post from internet friend, Jason. He’s a regular contributor at All Buffs and my gchats.

Deep benches in basketball seem to be a recipe for success.  The term “depth” gets thrown around like a double play. It gives you line-up options, protection against foul trouble or injury; the ability to go all out and press or play pressure D for a full 40.  This all seems to make sense, it’s intuitive, but does it actually correlate to winning? Because winning is the best stat.

There are a couple ways to look at this. Does a long bench help you through the season more than in the NCAA tournament? Or is the reverse actually true? Looking at the final 4 teams for the last 5 years, there have only been 2 teams (2013 Wichita St and 2009 Michigan St.) in the top 100 in the percent of bench minutes played (thanks KenPom). And just two Final Four teams ranked in the 100’s (2013 Louisville and 2010 Michigan St).  Meanwhile, there have been nine in the 300’s. It appears that having a short bench full of go-to guys means more than having a bunch of interchangeable guys in the NCAA tournament.

NCAA Final 4 Tournament teams overall ranking in % of bench minutes played

Rank

# of Teams

Top 100

2

100’s

2

200’s

7

300’s

9

The reality of this isn’t terribly shocking. The best players seem to win the most games. That 2012 Kentucky team that has set the bar for modern, single season domination had six players drafted. Coach Cal called upon his reserves the 323rd most frequently. They beat you because they were good, not deep. In a three week sprint for the finish, you don’t necessarily need more, just the best.

But what about the other side? Garnering an invitation into the Dance is quite an accomplishment. Tourney appearances hang from rafters, too, so it’s worth exploring whether or not, across the grind of thirty-plus games including a conference slate, a bench is helpful. The inevitability of injuries, sickness, wear-and-tear, the dog days, and every other unpredictable occurrence. Does having a deep bench help spell those issues?

Bench MinAgain, the answer appears to be “no”.  Over the past 3 seasons in the Pac-12 there is a negative (-0.213) correlation between bench minutes and winning. This year the overall NCAA is on pace to have an overall negative correlation higher than the three year Pac-12 average of -0.236.

Some of the deepest teams have actually been the worst. Take this year’s Oregon St. team: they have the deepest bench in the three year study of the Pac-12. Craig Robinson’s playing his bench 39.2% of the time and it’s  earned him 10th place in the standings.  The conference regular season winners are 11th, 10th and 10th in the percent of bench minutes played in the three years of Pac-12 hoops studied. Conversely, the longest benches have finished 10th, 3rd and 7th.

Bench Min by Year, 3 year avg, and avg Pac-12 regular season conference finish

Bench Min_Finish

Scouring over this we may be inclined to do a case study on Dana Altman. His teams have the highest average % of bench minutes played in the 3 year history of the Pac-12. There are no outlier years. He consistently plays his bench a lot.  This makes some sense on the periphery; he brings in a lot of transfers, trying to figure out lineups that work, tossing out a lot of different combinations and bench players.  But if you dig a little deeper you can see that even at Creighton he had a run of three consecutive years where he had the 3rd highest percent of bench minutes played. Clearly he’s a guy that likes to go deep into his bench and he’s only able to partially execute that plan with the roster turnover he’s had at Oregon.

Dana BenchOf note, and considering our first point with regards to Final Fours and our second note with regards to winning conference titles, Altman has been to just one Sweet Sixteen and only won or shared three conference titles in twenty-five years as a head coach.

In theory, having a long bench is terrific. You can spell all those season long unexpecteds. But, like I science experiment, perhaps introducing too many variables gets you into a situation where you can’t control the results. A classic case of less-is-more, maybe the bench is just for the Bernie:Kreal_Berie

Week 10 Pac-12 Hoops Preview

Larry and the Pac-12 powers thought they could sneak one past us with a Tuesday night tip between ASU and Oregon. But we’re too clever for that. Of course we’d rather watch this than any of the six, top-25 match ups tonight; catch up on GIRLS, True Detective, or House of Cards; or go on a Tinder date. March is for college basketball so give us college basketball. But here’s a little soapbox on hypocrisy while I get a little hypocritical. This game we love is buried deep in corporate greed and capitalism. That’s why ASU will play in Eugene on Tuesday despite the NCAA’s proclaimed protection and empowerment of the “student-athlete.” The Sun Devils will be in Oregon from Tuesday to Saturday – at the shortest – missing essentially the entire week of classes leading up to…spring break…which naturally will be spent in Las Vegas. The Devil’s are going to miss an entire week of classes for our entertainment and while I’m appreciative of that and excited for all this March hoop, I also recognize the hypocrisy of the system. But it is the final week of the season so…

GotW: Any game that might have tournament or Vegas seeding implications. Which is to say any game that involves a team that, as of publish, has 7 or 8 losses. Which is to say that eight of the twelve games this weekend have NCAA tournament implications. It is March after all. Furthermore, a top-4 finish is a coveted spot with Vegas right around the corner. That earns you a first round bye, one fewer game to potentially lose to the likes of USC (Cal) or Washington State (Washington and Utah). Cal is hosting for their tournament lives this weekend and Stanford could be, too. Oregon has rattled off an impressive five game win streak and has themselves primed for an invitation after being left for dead just 3 weeks ago. Colorado? With that question asked, the feeling that I must pick one GAME of the Week, and a March flair for the dramatic, we could see Saturdays’ penultimate Pac-12 regular season game (UCLA @ WSU closes this thing out) featuring Colorado in Berkeley as the GotW. Pending the mid-week results, this could be a battle royal for a spot in the dance.

Game to Avoid: If we’ve technically got eight games of the week then is it really that tall of an order to suggest we ignore the only other four games? Of course it is! This is March basketball. Almost nothing is worth ignoring except for Thursday’s game between USC and Washington State. What do you want me to say here? These are the last two teams in the conference and have combined for three conference wins. Watching this game could be more difficult than getting a deal done with the Chinese (#TeamUnderwood).

Something to Prove: Two games, with arguably a jaunt in Las Vegas, for the Oregon Ducks to prove to the committee that they deserve an invite. Which is a really interesting position considering all of the work they’ve done to prove otherwise. Alas, they swept Los Angeles and are riding the aforementioned momentum of 5 straight wins. According to Bracket Matrix, they’re back in the mix. Of the 68 brackets aggregated, 66 include the Ducks. And of course with great power comes great responsibility. The power in this equation is the guests. Arizona and ASU pose the toughest travel tandem, the perfect opportunity to solidify a resume. The responsibility, however, lies in the ownership of their own destiny. They earned that right by running through their non-conference slate  and rattling off their last five. They are responsible for their own tournament invitation. A challenge to force the committee to keep them out. Also, Mike Moser is en fuego. He’s averaging 17.6 ppg and 10.2 rpg during this five game win streak.

Something to Lose: After discussing Oregon’s place amongst things, let’s now take a look at Cal. According to the aforementioned Bracket Matrix they are in 63 of the 68 brackets which is still good but far from a guarantee. But it suggests they’re dancing, right? Which further suggests they’ve got something lose. And lose they have. Let’s look at Cal’s win percentage over the conference season vs. the Ducks:

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 7.56.10 PM

Someone’s trending up and someone’s trending down. The Ski schools will be in the Bay (I’m going to try and make it over to Boulder on Saturday) and pose a significant threat to whatever chance the Bears have in maintaining their spot at the ball. Because how ‘hot’ a team is plays into the judgement of the committee and Cal certainly ain’t hot.

The YouTouber: “You blew a wide open layup.” Gold.