Tag Archives: Ben Howland

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Week 9 Pac-12 Hoops Review

If I’m ever given the opportunity to accept an award with a microphone and an audience, may I please have the charisma, confidence and composure to pull off a “hashtag suck it.” Bravo, Cate Blanchett. Anyhow, we’ve got one of twelve seeds locked up for Vegas and I’m getting the itch to go. Is there a chance we get the Hollywood elite to pass the hat for PacHoops? 

Leader in the Clubhouse: A few teams made some nice statements with regards to the big tournament and seeding for the littler tournament but the Arizona Wildcats became the 2014 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Champions. It is the school’s twenty-sixth conference championship and the fist of three nets the team set out to cut. They’ve also sealed the conference title in sizzling hot fashion. The points per possession differentials across their last three games: .19, .41, .41. They’re destroying people as their defense is the best in the country and they’ve rediscovered their athletic ways on the break. In their last three games, the Wildcats have taken 25.5% of their shots in transition. Their season average has been 21.1% (171st in the country). We wondered how this team would adjust to life without Brandon Ashley and there you have it. Faster, similarly defensive, and hotter than a pistol in the game’s most important month.

Now with regards to how this section has played out through other portions of the season, I feel it necessary to note that Oregon achieved a road sweep this weekend. I don’t care, not in the least, that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams didn’t play. Oregon needs to stockpile wins at a point in the year when those opportunities are becoming sparse. Additionally, after a tough ski trip, the Sun Devils bounced back and destroyed the Bay schools. Big weekend for them to get back on track.

Biggest Loser: I was tuned into both the Oscar’s and the UCLA-OSU game because who isn’t into drama? I was loosely preparing to anoint the Bruins the biggest loser should they absorb a home sweep. Alas, that was never the case so this week’s biggest loser is, right here in my backyard…THE BAY AREA SCHOOLS! Sure winning on the road is tough but neither team even bothered to show up. They were collectively outscored by 71 points, an average 17.8 points. The Arizona schools shot 50.2% from the field this weekend which – for those of you short on math – means they made more shots than they missed. With both Stanford and Cal looking to bolster their resumes, they didn’t.

What We Learned: I already mentioned it – Arizona’s transition offense – but let’s re-discuss this. After Ashley went down and the Wildcats dropped two of four and nearly another pair to Oregon and Utah, they seemed to be the dead elite walking. And then something clicked and they showed us all just how good they can be again and it looks like this:

In Defense Of: Steve Alford’s temper

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The YouTuber: I. Hate. L. G.

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Q & A with Go Joe Bruin. He Touched the Ball

Since 1985, either UCLA or Arizona has won 21 of the 28 conference titles. That’s 75% of the championships. That’s domination. That’s a rivalry. The bastions of Pac Hoops and there have been some ball games, some players, and some heat. We could play word association but I don’t’ want to watch Wildcat reactions to Gadzuric, Kapono, or Mata-Real.

I do, however, want to know more about these new look Bruins. Do we even call them that? Whatever they are, they’re Steve Alford’s baby blues now and he has two sons on the team and that’s kinda cool. And their point guard leads their team in rebounding by a per game margin of 3…so yeah, I want to learn. Enter: Go Joe Bruin, the internet’s most reasonable, insightful, and complete UCLA site. It’s different than the other kids. And their witty twitter handle. I asked, he answered. The game is at 6pm Thursday on ESPN. The rivalry rages on.

Let’s start with what Steve Alford’s preferred film room temperature is…?
It depends on a lot of things. Actually, it doesn’t. I bet he watches film cold. Freezingn. Cold.

I grew to appreciate LD2 a ton last year and his leadership and skill was a huge part of their success. In turn, that led many to wonder how the Kyle Anderson point guard experiment would go. Fourteen games deep, it looks to be going quite well. Tell us about how he makes UCLA better?
People were pining for Anderson to take over ball-handling duties last year and so it took a lot of time for fans to warm up to Larry Drew. They did warm up to him, but the expectation was that Anderson would be running the offense, coach be damned.

Well it happened, and I gotta say, overall, it works for me. He’s got pretty remarkable vision, is really damn smooth, and is really unselfish. He’s got his issues and sometimes I think he tries to do too much. The 2.27 AST/TO ratio isn’t bad, though, so maybe I’m just being picky.

Most importantly (and perhaps most surprising) has been his improved scoring skills. He’s got quite a few moves down low and we both know he’s pretty deadly I’m the mid-range game. I think what’s really scary is he can knock down threes when he’s got the open look, and that’s a part of his game that I haven’t really seen. He doesn’t do it often (confirmed by his only taking 24 three-pointers over the past 14 games) but I think it adds a dimension to his game that already makes him one of the best do-it-all point forwards I’ve ever seen.

Of course, there’s his rebounding abilities, but I have a million more questions to get to.

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You’d never guess by this photo, but Steve also has his own two sons on this team

All of that said about Slow-Mo…how awesome is Jordan Adams?
Adams is awesome. He’s been awesome. He’s struggled at times – and he had an uncharacteristic shooting slump not too long ago that he shook off rather quickly – but he’s a stud.

I don’t know if UCLA has a better shooter than Adams. He’s a deadeye from there. He can stroke it with a hand in his face, off balance, in transition, on a boat, in a train, all that jazz. He’s gotten better in nearly every statistical category because he’s gotten *that* much better.

A little input from the fan base at large – a lot of fans felt he should’ve been UCLA’s first option on offense somewhere close to halfway through the season, and I think that makes sense. His production outmatched Shabazz Muhammad’s on a per-minute basis, and I’m sure he’d be getting so much more recognition now if that had been the case.

Another reason I love this matchup is that stylistically, the UCLA offense is built to beat the Arizona defense. The Bruins are terrific from mid-range and used that to torch AZ last season (3-0). This year, the Bruins are more effectively getting to the rim (LOVE YA J.ADAMS!!!!) but are still shooting the 5th best FG% from 2pt range. Meanwhile, Arizona’s third rated KenPom defense is built to force 2pt jumpers: 54.5% of shots against leads the nation and teams shooting just 32.5%. Immovable object, unstoppable force. What makes the UCLA mid-range game so effective, if not lethal?
As much as I talk trash about the Mildcats, you’re right – UCLA has all the match-ups necessary to beat Arizona, and not just once, but, oh I don’t know, three times in a season.

That’s not because Arizona sucks, but really, it’s because they’re willing to give up the most inefficient shot in the game, and that just happens to be an annoying strong-suit of UCLA’s. (Although I guess you could argue the most efficient shot in the game is an open one.)

Adams is a lock to drain those open jumpers, and we know Kyle can drill ‘em, too. The Wears — when they’re picking-and-popping, a weapon that has disappeared since LDII left the team — can drain them. And now you’ve got Zach LaVine, another shooter, albeit one who is partial to threes and dunks, and Bryce Alford, who’s quickly coming to his own as a shooter and floor general.

Of course, as much as UCLA was cool with taking those mid-range jumpers, it kinda feels like this team’s tempo dictates more of its offense than it did last year. I don’t believe they’re much faster than Howland’s squad last year, but they definitely attack the basket in transition more frequently than their 2012-13 counterparts.

So yeah, to answer your question, the personnel makes the mid-range game lethal. It’s not as emphasized as it was last year and again, i think that’s largely because LDII was so quick to penetrate on pick-and-pops, but I do think Alford should specifically vitalizes that aspect of UCLA’s game against lengthy, athletic Arizona.

He did touch the ball.
He didn’t. I think we should ask Sean Miller what he thinks though, so long as we tape it.

Sean Miller He Touched the Ball

“By the way, full credit to UCLA”

The two-point jumper is one weapon, but UCLA also thrives in transition (11th highest % of their offense there). Meanwhile – and I’m about to expose this immovable/unstoppable theme – Arizona allows just the 9th highest percentage of offense in transition. How are the Bruins getting out into transition so much? How cool are Zach LaVine dunks?
I didn’t know about Arizona’s transition defense but I could’ve guessed that. They’ve done a good job against teams who want to get out on the break.

I think the one thing that people haven’t noticed about UCLA’s success in transition is the gambles they take to get out on the break, primarily on defense. UCLA is a bit ridiculous at forcing turnovers (note that they’ve got 150 steals through 14 games; that’s third in the country), and we know what happens when the perimeter guys can force turnovers.

And it’s not like UCLA is a rebounding team – this has to be the worst team in terms of rebounding I have ever seen in my life, and statistically, I’m pretty close to being right!

If Arizona really wants to stop UCLA’s uptempo offense? Take care of the ball.

All-time favorite Bruin?
All-time favorite Bruin: Darren Collison, and honorable mention to unconventional one-and-done Larry Drew II.

All-time favorite Wildcat? I know you have one. Ed O’Bannon and Darren Collison are tied for my favorite Bruins.
I like Steve Kerr. As a player, a commentator, and as a friend. (I’m not his friend yet but it’s definitely happening.)

Wear family?
Wear family. I don’t know what else you want me to say — they’re a frustrating duo that plays their asses off. I’d probably love them if they could rebound.

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<3 <3

And talk to me about the Bruins’ frontcourt. I’ve been underwhelmed and we’ve tweeted about as much. Talk about it because it’s Arizona’s strength:
You’ve been underwhelmed? Your expectations for UCLA’s front court may have been a tad unreasonable.

They’re pretty bad. Really bad, even, as long as we don’t include Kyle Anderson. In fact, he leads the team in rebounding and rebounding percentage — he’s a perimeter player.

Parker comes in as a close second in rebounding rate, but the Wear twins are well below every starter and nearly every rotation player.

I mean, they just don’t have the fundamentals down. Positioning, hands, etc. They’re rather ‘soft’ and don’t necessarily do well when grinding down low with other bigs.

Is that a key to this game though? I don’t think so. UCLA is annoyingly content with huge rebounding disparities and they even win convincingly in spite of them. They’ll beat good teams without rebounding (see: Arizona, 0-3), and I find that shocking.

When the rebounding is even, it’s almost a surefire UCLA win because they just don’t do it on a regular basis. When they’re getting boards, they create opportunities in transition and they also stop the opposing team from earning second chance shots.

But it doesn’t happen often. I don’t need stats to tell you that, and no, I’m not too lazy to look them up!

The Bruins have settled into a zone for much of their defensive season and this question is two-fold: 1) How does that make you feel? 2) Which zone has it been, primarily, and do you think it’s effective?
One of the narratives surrounding Ben Howland’s downfall was his stubbornness on defense. He kept saying his teams weren’t athletic enough to compete but he refused to play zone. We know zone defenses can mask a lot of deficiencies, and UCLA’s lack of athleticism is a deficiency that the zone can ease.

That said, too much zone, and teams adjust. The well-coached teams dismantle it within a couple of possessions, sending a ball-handler to shoot those gaps on the perimeter and make the defense collapse with penetration.

Alford doesn’t always allow that to happen – he’s been good about switching up his defenses to throw different looks at opponents. Aside from a basic man defense and and a 2-3 zone, he’s totally willing to roll with a 3-2 zone, and he’s just as willing to play ultra-aggressive man defense in both the half-court and full-court. It depends on the situation.

So why does UCLA suck so bad defensively on paper? Well part of it is that UCLA just isn’t athletic, especially down low. That’s where Arizona can and should abuse UCLA, and they should do it with reckless abandon. They should crash the offensive boards because those kill the Bruins, and they should just plop in the paint and penetrate and do all that.

Which Wildcat are you most concerned with?
I’m most concerned with the bigs. They’re really talented, really long, and really good. The points in the paint margin is going to be brutal.

Enough funny business: Tell me what happens Thursday?
Arizona wins. I question whether UCLA can exploit the mid-range game, and that’s because the pick-and-pops aren’t there like they were. If they can’t, Arizona is going to murder them inside.

Plus UCLA hasnt beaten a good team. Conference games are different, but still.

If UCLA wins? You’ll never hear the end of it. Ever.

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Arizona on the break, Oregon Transfers, Pace

We prognosticated and assumed and ran with things that coaches or scouts told us before the season started. That’s well and good but now’s the time to begin the accountability train. Let’s take a look at a few thoughts I (we?) want to keep an eye on as the season progresses and what we’re learning about them.

Arizona in transition –

All the pre-season long we’ve glowed about Arizona’s need and ability to get out into transition. That they’d struggle from distance but that the team’s true strength came in the form of defensive length and  versatility which would lead to easy transition buckets. #LOBPUEBLO. So I took to hoop-math.com, paid the more-than-worth-it-$15 subscription to discover that Arizona ranks 117th in % of total FGA in transition. That seemed low. They’re getting just 21% of their shots in transition. The Cats are, however, pretty damn efficient at these buckets, dropping a 73.4% eFG (16th in the nation). #LOBPUEBLO. Anecdotally, Arizona sure seemed to get into transition last night against Fairleigh Dickinson in the most lopsided Wildcat win since Arizona’s coach had white hair – and was a good. Against FDU, the Wildcats took 26.5% of their shots (18) in transition, or slightly above the D-1 average. NOTE: This is not cause for concern. It’s just a notice that perhaps Arizona’s strength isn’t necessarily in transition. Or it isn’t their happy place or primary means of points. Whatever the case, Arizona seems to be effectively using its size, taking just 22% of their shots from beyond the arc and have the 14th best offensive rebounding percentage.

The pace of play in Westwood and Tempe -

Steve Alford’s Bruins have jumped out to a blistering 72.8 possessions per game. That’s 57th best in the nation and the fastest UCLA team since Bruins Nation on the Alford hiring. For further context, only Howland’s last team outpaced the rest of the nation; playing 3.6 more possessions than the average D-1 team. Every other Howland season played below the D-1 average pace including his best team, 2008, which operated at 65.6 vs. 67. We all knew he was slow and many complained that Alford was too despite a UCLA coaching hunt for a “different style.” Thus far – and I’m acutely aware of the infancy of this season – Steve’s baby blue baby bears are burnin’ the floor and Kyle Anderson is comfortable at the point.

Meanwhile, in the land of Herb, he’s been talking about picking up the pace since he had back-to-back seasons without reaching the teens in wins. Last season was really the beginning of it but did you know the Sun Devils were only average in the tempo department? The 2013 D-1 average was 65.9 while the Herbivores got 65.8 possessions. But improvement – increased pace in this case – is relative to the Herb system, right? Let’s look. In his previous six Tempe seasons, the Sen Devils put up an average tempo of 61.9. In 2013 they jumped that number by 6% to get to the Jahii-led, blistering tempo of 65.8. That’s significant and this year they’ve upped the anti to 71.2 possessions. Perhaps Herb’s 3-12-24 is working?

Assimilation of the transfer Duck -

Points Rebounds Assists ORtg %Poss %Shots
Mike Moser 20.5 6 3 143.1 21.6 32.7
Joseph Young 30 5.5 1.5 156.3 26.3 26.8
Jason Calliste 10.5 2.5 3.5 131.9 17.9 11.9

Next subject.

Steve Alford Kyle Anderson

Getting to know UCLA: Who cares if they’re slow

We’re all getting to know UCLA right now. Will they play fast? Well? With a point guard? Recruit well? Collapse? Thrive? With Steve Alford at the helm, I’m fascinated. And it’s not so much an Alford thing as it is a UCLA thing. Alas, he’s in charge and he’s only going to be successful if he’s allowed to be his own man. He had that at New Mexico whereas at Iowa, it seemed he was still that hot shot Indiana kid, biding his time to take the lead chair in Bloomington. He never quite got it going there. But now he has no other chairs to fill. This is it. Steve Alford has reached the pinnacle of college basketball coaching – by way of job title – and it’s one of the most unique jobs around. The nameplate in his office drips with history and the expectations of a pyramid that he must uphold. A glorious set of standards but not necessarily Steve’s. Step one is surely to respect that history and embrace himself. Prepare yourself for me to opine on this a lot in the coming months.

Why I love them: The mid-range game is a dying art and understandably so. It’s the longest distance from the basket with the lowest reward (2 points). That’s high risk, low reward. There are defenses designed (like the packline at Arizona) to force teams into shooting mostly in this area. Last year, the Wildcats forced 39% of shots from that range. UCLA, meanwhile, took 44% of their shots in that range (compared to 29% at the rim and 24% beyond the arc). Subsequently the Bruins swept the Wildcats in three games. MATH! And the man I want to highlight here is Jordan Adams. He’s a terrific talent that got lost behind Shabazz and his very similar game. Did you know Adams made zero post-season lists? I mean, honorable mention all-freshmen, sure, but damn. Welcome back Pac? He’s one of seven returning Pac players to score 15ppg last year. He’s going to score in bunches and greatly utilize that 2-pt jump shot. Last year he took 40% of his shots from there and made them at a 45% clip – the highest rate of any contributing Bruin (only Josh Smith, yes that guy, and Tony Parker had higher FG% there). Now it’s worth noting here that there was a regime change in Westwood – I’m not sure if you noticed – and so one might wonder if that will have an effect on the Bruins’ style of play. The short answer is: duh. However, with regards to what we’ve been discussing here, we can peak at New Mexico’s shot distribution. In 2012-13 the Lobos took about 36% of their shots from 2pt jumper-town. Alford offenses are generally deliberate and predicated on set plays, getting a shooter – say, Jordan Adams? – an open jump shot. Conclusive? Hardly, but if you’re touting a team who’s primary ball handler is likely to be a 6’9″ bad three point shooter and that has the Wear family, I imagine there will continue to be jumpers abound in Westwood.

Why I hate them: Kyle Anderson is a very talented basketball player. That’s not why I hate the Bruins, mind you. Kyle’s so talented that this is his final season at UCLA. It’s yet to be determined if he can be the primary ball handler – as I think he’ll need to be – for a highly competitive basketball team but that doesn’t really concern me. Kyle Anderson at the 1 is a defensive liability and defense is the cornerstone of Steve Alford teams. He’s never coached a team who’s AdjD didn’t rank in the top-100. He’s also never coached a team without a direction in its name to the sweet sixteen (Southwest Missouri State, 1999 S16). No one is soon to call Jordan Adams a stopper. Same with the Wear family (who by the way are remarkably solid basketball players with roles escalated beyond what they’re equipped to produce). Norman Powell is a great athlete and might be their best defensive player but ultimately, I’m not certain this group of Bruins can play the excellent defense that’s going to be asked of them.

Stat you need to know:

1.3

Percent increase in AdjT between Steve Alford’s last 11 seasons (67.11) as compared to Ben Howland’s last 11 seasons (66.22). Personally, I think style of play is overrated. One of my favorite hoops fans has little to no problem annually cheering his Badgers to 24 wins on about 60 possessions/game. Winning is all that matters. I’ll judge Steve’s left column.

In their words: Making his PacHoops debut here, Luc Bergevin brings some fresh UCLA perspective as all things become new again in Westwood. Read more of his good word at The Stoop Kids

And so year one of the Alford experiment gets underway. Coach Alford was not the guy many of us wanted, (that would be Stevens, Donovan, Pitino, Shaka, etc.) but he’s the coach we’ve got, and so we support him. I especially like his hiring of assistant coach Ed Schilling, who previously ran Adidas Nations and has great credibility as a clinician. I could also see Alford being a guy the players get up for, which is something we sorely lacked in the last few years of the Howland regime.

We’ve got solid depth on the wings, but the questions this season hinge on who will be running the point and who will separate themselves down low. For my money, I hope we see Kyle Anderson as the primary ball handler, with Wanaah Bail and Tony Parker getting meaningful minutes over the same old Wears. Be ready for quick and loud cries of nepotism should the young Bryce Alford get too many minutes at the point without stunning success.

I think the overall athleticism of this team is improved from last year, especially if my hopes for the post come to fruition. Alford is not the stubborn gruff Howland was, so I expect to see more zone on the defensive side of the ball. I love the athletic upside of freshman combo guard Zach Lavine, and I think this could be the year things finally click for Norman Powell. I don’t know exactly where to set my expectations for this year, and that may set up for a pleasant surprise as the season unfolds.

Quotable:

“Steve Alford fails in an epic fashion in the recruiting trail in his first year by striking out with all key point guard recruits in his first year at UCLA, possibly making him a damaged good for rest of his time in Westwood.” – Bruins Nation

Outlook: By no stretch do I dislike this team. I’m not sold on their top asset, defense, but I love Jordan Adams and while Kyle Anderson may be porous on the defensive end, he’s a matchup nightmare offensively and has no bones exploiting that: “Some games I’m going to be asked to score the ball more or go inside and rebound more. And I’m willing to.” As I’ve stated ad nauseum, I love seniors, and David and Travis will be hometown seniors. Their long and unique collegiate journey is coming to an end. How will they be remembered? They won’t soon be remembered as Bruin legends but they’re damn fine ball players. I imagine the Bruins to be one of six Pac-12 teams dancing in March.

ShabazzFOY

Shabazz Muhammad Late to Draft, Still Makes Lottery

There’s been significant “year ago” dialogue surrounding Shabazz Muhammad over the past few weeks. After all, it was just a year ago that Ben Howland and the UCLA Bruins were being vaunted for signing the “future #1 draft pick.” He was lauded as a physical specimen. A man amongst boys who could score from beyond and above the rim.

And then the Las Vegas native – with a season in Westwood under his belt – was deemed “overrated.” He fell on draft boards and was considered to be a disappointment at draft combines.

With his stock bottoming out, he was not invited to the coveted green room.

And then he showed up late. An odd incident I missed while two doors down throwing my laundry into the dryer.

So while I suppose I too was late to the Bazz party, none of this will soon matter. Not his age or his Gucci bags or his plane tickets or whether he’s stoked on Larry Drew’s buckets. On Thursday night, Shabazz Muhammad was drafted 14th overall by the Utah Jazz…and promptly traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Some loved it:

While others were simply disappointed in the nomenclature:

Of course no matter the narrative surrounding his controversial Bruin career and the subsequent fall from NBA general manager grace, Muhammad was always considered a one-year Pac-participant. What he leaves behind in Westwood is a blossoming situation.

The significant scoring void can be filled by sophomore, Jordan Adams, who proved himself a capable scorer, if not star, in Muhammad’s shadow last season. Also returning is the Wear family – formidable lookalikes who Bruin faithful hope can conjure up seasons that don’t quite look like their previous outputs. Kyle Anderson is perhaps the most intriguing returner in that he can do a little bit of everything, capable of creating gross mismatches all over the floor. But he is slow which can be excused if he shaves.

They also bring in some impactful newcomers in wings Zach LaVine and – COACH’S KID ALERT!!! – Bryce Alford.

Speaking of coach, the one tasked with shaping Muhammad’s UCLA career, Ben Howland, no longer holds that role. That task now belongs to Steve Alford, the twelfth lead man in Bruins history.

While it wasn’t the most glamorous hire, met to the moderate-to-mighty chagrin of UCLA faithful, it is a solid hire. He won significantly at his previous stop (New Mexico) and has experience leading a high major program (Head Coach at Iowa) and understands the pressures of being part of a legendary program (played at Indiana for Bob Knight). He was ultimately change for the sake of it but that’s not going to stop him from trying to win with the lineup he’s inherited and the lottery pick he’s lost.

As the previous year would seem to have been a trying one for both the newly drafted Muhammad and the UCLA basketball program each now find themselves in a budding situation, an opportunity to set sail on the seas of change and adventure to discover their new identities in new lands.

(Come on, it’s a UCLA piece, had to go Walton).

EdRushShelleySmith

EXCLUSIVE: The Ed Rush-Michael Irving Exchange

Video has been released from inside the officials’ meeting prior to the UCLA-Arizona Pac-12 tournament semifinal game. Footage includes intimidation tactics and the controversial comments made by Ed Rush that were later determined to have been made in jest. This footage is exclusive to PacHoops.

The Ed Rush – Michael Irving Exchange
by: pachoopsab

 

LarryScottEdRush

Larry Scott, two Ed Rush’s, Cancun, and 191-Words

A simple google search of Ed Rush’s name will result in nothing helpful with regards to basketball officiating. As it were, Ed Rush is also the name of a “jungle/techstep/neurofunk” DJ. His top song on Spotify is “Chubhub.”

This is likely not the man to have offered $5k cash or a trip to Cancun for actions against Sean Miller as reported by Jeff Goodman of CBS.

No, the man recently investigated by the Pac-12, Ed T. Rush, is the Head of Officiating for the conference. Per Goodman’s source, he offered these rewards to any official who “rang him up” or “ran him” during the Pac-12 tournament. Him referring to Sean Miller.

Now as this news hit the interwebs, I experience four stages of reaction in coming to my conclusions and feelings on the matter. I’ll walk you through my Monday afternoon:

Stage 1: Knee-jerk

Oh my. OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG. Wow. Whoa. Highlight-Control-C-Control-V-Gchat. Control-V-Tweet. Control-V-Personal-Book. Control-V-PacHoops-Book. Text. Text. Text. Text. Zero logical thought. OMGOMGOMGOMG. HEDIDTOUCHTHEBALL.

I assume my actions generated less than 1% of the post’s total view.

Stage 2: What’s this thing say exactly?

So then I read the whole thing. I learned that the Pac-12 “investigated” Head of Officiating, Ed T. Rush, and that an official anonymously made public comments made during this referees’ meeting. What was said was damning of an already poorly regarded officiating base, irresponsible for a man charged with upholding the integrity of sport, and threatened the sanctity of holding competitive athletics in Las Vegas (damn you!). “This,” I thought, “Is remarkably inappropriate and an obviously fireable offense. Ed T. Rush – because I have no beef with the neurofunk DJ – has no business in his current function. He clearly has a vendetta or grudge and an official’s office is no such place for those emotions to fester. What’s worse, what if there was a conspiracy to keep UCLA in the tournament? Emotion is one thing and excusable as human…but a SCANDAL! ARE WE LOOKING AT A SCANDAL?” Those were some of my thoughts.

And I have to imagine many of you shared these feelings and still do. Emotions ran high on the night of that technical – it’s even more well documented than the two points – and officiating has long been a point of contention in the Pac-12. Firing Ed T. Rush was a very rationale first thought. But…

Stage 3: What was this thing really saying?

So hold on, I think I needed to pause. Firing someone is a big deal and while I support just punishment, I’ve also come to learn that reactionary decisions are bad. Without this perspective I might have: No job, a child, debt, a graduate degree, things I can’t talk about because my mom might figure out how to use a computer this week, a piercing, more furniture off the street, JNCOs, an adult goatee, or an ASU fan.

Stepping back I noticed that this was a bullied subordinate attacking a man who “we’re all afraid of” under the conditions of anonymity. Suddenly this screamed of tattle tale and finger pointing. What’s more, who hasn’t suggested something astronomically preposterous in a work meeting? I once listed – from my first kill to the last – who I’d take out should the office ever enter a Hunger Games situation. That, in retrospect, was not my best work. This, in retrospect, is not Ed T. Rush’s best work.

If we’re to take the conference at it’s word, Rush’s comments were “in jest” and that everyone involved understood that these were “not serious offers.” No one wound up $5k richer. Michael Irving – the official who controversially T’d up Miller following this meeting – did not go to Cancun. An off the cuff remark that likely received chuckles was turned into a likely lucrative whistle blowing affair for one disgruntled man in stripes and jumped on by the media (understandably so).

During this stage of reaction I wasn’t excusing Rush’s comments but rather settling into the notion that these were words surrounding an official and an easy story to blow up. This angle also does not point fingers at Jeff Goodman for running with this story. It’s good stuff. But my grain of salt was growing…

Stage 4: My Take

In what was either a small windowless room in the bowels of the MGM Grand Garden Event center or a glorious conference room in the same venue, Ed T. Rush made a remark about one of the coaches that had rode his officials season long. An under-appreciated and intimidated official went to the media with it under the protection of anonymity following what would no doubt appear action stemming from that off-handed remark. The conference called it a joke and had addressed its inappropriate nature with Rush.

That’s the story we know.

The fall out, of course, is where the intrigue lies. Who’s getting fired? What’s the conspiracy? How much money was really exchanged? Did he touch the ball? Can I party with Irving at Señor Frogs?

Again, what we know is that Rush said something he undoubtedly should not have. We also have anecdotal evidence that Rush is a powerful man with capability of bullying people. Mark Cuban once said,

“Ed Rush might have been a great ref, but I wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen. His interest is not in the integrity of the game or improving the officiating, he #1 priority of Ed Rush is maintaining power.”

Officiating is both thankless and a grind. These officials are pining for games, overworked, and maybe not always assigned games based on skill but rather preference. The sarcastic commentary of a tyrannical boss, regardless his or her intent, can be interpreted in many ways. As a manager, Rush should have known better than to make such a comment. Stepping out of our basketball bubble – or even our sports bubble – a manager’s role, particularly on the eve of performance, is to coach, empower, and educate. Doubt should not be instilled in the minds of the team, no matter whether it’s sales, dance, bartending, or computer programming. You’re a leader, be better than the surface pettiness.

Back into our hoops bubble, these comments were made in the face of officials tasked with championing the law of sport. Now we do plenty of bitching at these men but we ultimately entrust them with the rules of the game. For the most part, they do a good job and are best appreciated when they are not seen.

Well, Ed T. Rush and Larry Scott, you’ve got the spotlight on them. All eyes.

And you dropped the ball. To dismiss this as a joke and that a couple conversations were had is unfathomably weak. I may be stepping into hyperbole but this is the very sanctity of sport. Rules – as we learned in kindergarten – are to be followed. If doubt creeps into the most basic and truest tenants of the game – that the rules must be followed – how do we trust any results?

It’s now undeniable that the playing field was not level for Arizona (NOTE: THAT GAME WAS NOT LOST ON THAT CALL) regardless of Rush’s intent.

For such, the spirit of competition deserves better than 191 inconsequential words of fluff. No. You nip this thing in the bud and you do not let it grow into the weed it could potentially become. It doesn’t matter what the investigation uncovered, this is bigger than whether Miller deserved a technical or not. This is the accountability of the stripes, the integrity of rules. Whether Irving’s actions were justified or not, Rush had planted this idea in his head. Inception, goes the dynamite. And regardless of Miller’s previous actions, leadership must be above such commentary in professional settings. Miller himself needs to be better than berating a Pac-12 employee in the halls.

So what we have here is a crummy situation. A comment that did not cost Arizona a basketball game (stop Jordan Adams already) but did put an entire conference’s officiating integrity in the limelight. The last thing they possibly needed addressed in the least convincing of manners.

What we needed was to believe that this was not sifting into the outcomes of the games which teams play to win, coaches coach to win, and fans cheer to win. To believe that these efforts are not for naught and that all participants can trust that the outcome was based off of the adherence and upholding of an established set of rules. To believe that when the final horn sounds, one team has prevailed over the other as the better of two competitors. Nothing else.

Following Monday’s Pac-12 statement and inaction, I don’t know if I believe.

SteveAlford

Steve Alford is no April Fools

I love the Steve Alford hire.

I’m watching the Kevin Ware injury on repeat.

I have little interest in what Aaron Gordon has to say tomorrow.

It was about time to get the Oregon cheerleaders off TV.

I will not miss this college basketball season.

APRIL FOOLS!

Are you kidding me!? Steve Alford was a fallback hire and I will not watch the Ware thing once. If Aaron Gordon says what I think and hope he’ll say dancing will ensue and preferably with an Oregon cheerleader. There are just three games left :(

But I really want to dig into this Alford hire.

It came across my ESPN ScoreCenter push notifications at something like 8:50am Saturday on my way to a pickup hoops game. I was driving alone and immediately didn’t know what to do. I headed to social media, quickly, and then to Wikipedia. The Alford page already mentioned UCLA.

Hadn’t he just signed a 10-year deal in Albuquerque?

Alas, Dan Guerrero and Bruins Nation have their man. He has to be. Westwood’s newest coach:

  • 4 Tournament wins in 18 seasons as HC
  • .589 win percentage at High Major Iowa
  • 7 NCAA appearances
  • 3 4* recruits while at UNM
  • Avg AdjT ranking of 181st
  • 1 Sweet Sixteen
  • 0 Final Fours

But I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. He’s signed, sealed, and delivered and it’s going to be his show. BruinsNation must withhold their vitriol for a minimum three-seasons. In my opinion, at least.

The Howland firing was universally accepted as a necessary change. It doesn’t always look right on paper but a break was necessary. A lot like your college girlfriend.

Alford doesn’t fit all the buzz words like “winning the press conference” or “home run hire” but he does offer a new regime in Westwood which is what the Bruins had coming to them. And while some will tell you that he was hired in desperation, that Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens’ declining led Guerrero to jump on the first available “yes”, I’m not buying it. Who’s to say he hadn’t been in the Pitino and Donovan camps for weeks? Why wouldn’t he have been? You fire the Head Coach of the conference champ and you knew you were going to do this for awhile. Phone calls were made. Interests were felt out. Guerrero had at least an idea of which trees to bark up and at a certain juncture he barked up the Alford tree and here we are.

Change for the sake of change.

Whether he’s a good fit or a successful hire will ultimately boil down to how he fills the left column. History suggests he might struggle to do so.

I say give it time. This hire can can hold the promise of spring after a cold winter.

And it sure ain’t April Fools.

CoachingHunt

How to Survive Your Coaching Hunt

The coaching rumors have begun. From grumblings of Josh Pastner and Jamie Dixon, to Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, this is the most browser refreshing time of year.

I for one, am not jealous of those programs in the hunt. As a fan, this is the most exhausting thing and something I’ve endured far too heavily in the past decade. After all, it was my Arizona Wildcats that allowed Nic Wise to become the first and only power conference player to have four different coaches (Olson, O’Neill, Pennell, Miller) in four years. Who wants that distinction?

And then of course there was the Miller-to-Maryland threat which was one of the worst 48-hour periods of my life. There’s something to be said about stability and comfort and as it stands today – with regards to the current hunts – Dixon and Pastner have let their signatures do the talking. Each has signed extensions with their current employers ensuring they won’t go anywhere. Or something like that.

But again, take it from me, these things are awful. They’re draining and exhausting and exhilarating and terrifying. They’re a time suck and will drive you insane all to wind up with a guy who you’ll barely see in action for another half-year (#IsItNovermberYet).

Alas, here is a guide to surviving your coaching hunt:

  1. Don’t Hate – Unless the outgoing guy is leaving your program in NCAA shambles, he’s really not as bad as you think. Look at the situation holistically and if you still think he deserves your hate, then so be it. But really assert your energies on the excitement of the next guy.
  2. A “No” doesn’t mean your program totally sucks – There’s probably a long(ish) list of names your AD is going to go through and that list starts with some dream names. He’s going to get rejected. Your school is going to get rejected. You don’t suck that bad.
  3. Do not host out of town friends with no connection to college basketball – They’ll soon realize that you being on your phone has nothing to do with the forthcoming “exciting things” you have planned and that you’re just incessantly reading rumors on Twitter. Never set yourself up to be an asshole (which is more of a life rule).
  4. Be Patient -  It took Oregon a brief lifetime to find Dana Altman. These things take time. Know that your AD – or at least hope that your AD – has been on the Bat Phone for a few months now talking to intermediaries and handlers or World Wide Wes or whatever and whoever the hell else is involved in back room deals where public comments sound a lot like a Johnnie Cochran case: DENY DENY DENY!
  5. Do not sneak into a local resort and get drunk in the jacuzzi – Such a situation lends itself to extreme bouts of nostalgia and Glory-Days-syndrome. Your expectations will be unfairly heightened.
  6. Do not contact former head coaches of your school whose actions warranted NCAA sanctions and then the hiring of the firable Kevin O’Neill – Duh.
  7. Group text – Include only your core and most trusted fellow fans. You do not have to share this conversation with everyone. There’s free reign for discussion here and it’s a safe place. The trust tree…in the nest.
  8. Good Scotch – Just a solid thing to have around.
  9. 80-20 Rule - Believe 20% of what you hear is bullshit. Know that 80% of what you hear is bullshit.
  10. Do not start a plane tracking thread - This is just borderline insane. Your time will be better suited by starting a rumor about a coach’s wife dealing with a local real estate agent. Even that’s weird. In fact, just don’t be a rumor starter. Laugh at those ridiculous rumors publicly and refer back to Rule #7 for discussion.
  11. Your program might not be as tight as you think – Otherwise you wouldn’t be hunting for a coach.
  12. Believe – Give unbridled support to the coach you hire. He’s excited about the opportunity and we can all, for at least one brief press conference, believe that coach’s aren’t hired to be fired and that this guy just might outdo Wooden.
  13. The Basketball season will start at the same time next year – And your team is likely to not be very good.
  14. If your school is a public institution, apply - By law, any state school has to open all state funded positions to the general public (or some other legal jargon way of saying it). Find the job posting on your school’s website and apply. What’s the worst that could happen?
  15. Mike Krzyzewski at Army - 9-17 when he was hired away from that institution. The rest is a pain in everyone’s ass.
  16. Do not trust the following:
  • Message board contributors who’s screen name resembles something like [insert team name]Fan4Lyfe[insert year of school's best season]
  • Tweets from person’s with fewer than 1k followers
  • Coaches:

BenHowlandFired

On Ben Howland and the UCLA Job

Honestly my first reaction was sadness. I did not enjoy seeing Ben Howland and the program he led and the manner in which he led it so widely chastised and considered ruinous.

And I understand the nature of this beast. It’s a business of immediate criticisms with many anonymous critics free to spout whatever they wish from behind the security of a screen name. Also a lot of very public critics.

But I suppose what I find so interesting about this now vitriolic UCLA fan base – now encouraging their former coach to not let the door hit him on the way out – has been their insistence on replacing “Coach.” To ensure that there is a head figure to carry forth the program of Coach, with the principles of the pyramid bound to their mind and inscribed across his heart.

Ben Howland is a helluva basketball coach. Somewhere along the line he lost his way as the elite guy he swiftly proved himself to be; but, as evident by this season’s Pac-12 championship, he didn’t stray too far from what exactly he is: a terrific basketball coach.As it unfortunately were, he did not have the energy to carry the torch of the past; to embody the man (Wooden) whom he is not, was not, and will not be. An exhausting task to compete with the ghosts of the past.

But as I said, there is a beast to this industry and so, when expectations realistic or otherwise are not met, the beast rears its ugly head and axes are swung.

I’m not trying to make an argument here for keeping Ben Howland. It’s become clear that he is not the right man, right now, to be the lead at UCLA. His time had run its course. There was little enthusiasm in Westwood and Howland seemed to be doing very little to instill excitement in the program surrounding his on-court product. It would appear that both parties are best suited with a fresh start.

Which might be exactly what the UCLA program needs: A fresh start. And I’m not talking about simply a new coach. John Wooden will never be replaced. He can and should be respected and remembered are revered but no man will be successful in any venture mimicking another. The Bruins are about to acquire a very good coach. A man with an impressive resume and the utmost respect for the job he’s inheriting. But for him to be successful, for him to truly uphold the principles of “Coach’s Program,” he will have to be his own man. Whatever that is, he will adhere to his own principles and succeed by his own strengths. He will win because, in his own right, is good.

Ben Howland will take a season or so off and find his way into a new position somewhere and likely be very successful there. He’ll find little appreciation for his ten seasons in Westwood (the longest tenure since Wooden) but he should sleep well at night knowing he’s good at what he does: Coach basketball.

May his next venture allow him to do such.

May UCLA’s next venture allow someone to succeed.