I was very curious how The Drive was going to be introduced. The Pac-12 Networks cuts up so much content that I was really excited to see what they came up with. Naturally things opened with a Wooden shot. Makes sense. But could there have been an any more fitting opening to behind the scene’s 2014-15 Pac-12 footage than Tad Boyle telling the most disappointing team in the conference that “it’s time for us to start playing the way we’re capable of playing.” I love you Pac-12 Networks. Continue reading
The Pac is avoiding afternoon broadcasting this Sunday. Fortunately, conference games that day feature the two worst teams in the Pac (USC and Cal). I suppose I’ve tipped my hand surrounding this week’s Game(s) to Avoid, but maybe you’ll be at a house of favorable fandom. Which really just proposes that you’re at a house choosing to optimize the magnitude of the day’s events with the requisite accompaniments of next-level junk food. Like I want to hear about food consumption that has you in a funk so Monday that you think ‘Ernie Kent for the rebuild’ is a great idea. Of course that puts all eyes on Husky fans (no pun intended) who will have dual watching privileges (Cal @ UW 12pm + Super Bowl). So if the Pac-12 is going to try and avoid competing with the Super Bowl, we can oblige! And while it seems that everyone hates both the Seahawks and the Patriots, both produce two very lovable characters. And Tom Brady is awesome.
Game of the Week
A lot of things to keep an eye on this week particularly on Wednesday. Five of the conference’s top six teams will be in action that night including our GotW: Stanford @ Washington. This game features our two leading amoeba candidates with identical 14-5 overall records. Washington hasn’t had quite the conference success of the Cardinal and now will be short their tallest asset: Robert Upshaw. Nevertheless, #TakingCareOfBusiness at home has been a major part of Pac-12 basketball. They have the second highest conference home winning percentage. This bodes well for Washington. The Upshaw story bodes well for the Cardinal.
And while it’s not a game, The Drive, debuts tonight at 9pm PST on The Networks. Expect reviews of that.
Game to Avoid
The aforementioned Sunday slate may be unavoidable. If I’m parked with a booming game day bucket, Taco Bell, ‘za, wings, cheap beer, expensive beer, mid-priced red (someone’s inevitably going to invite this friend), a Chinese spread, why-not-Thai, an assortment of Hostess products, fuggit-a-pie, ice cream, and Tums® then I won’t be opposed to watching Pac-12 basketball, too. Maybe let’s make a handful of prop bets for the weekend? Let me know if you want in on this action:
- Herb Sendek gets extended: 3-1
- Spencer Dinwiddie given 6 week D-League assignment in Boulder: 4-1
- Robert Upshaw transfers to Oregon: 6-1
- Robert Upshaw transfers from Oregon: 6-1
- Bryce Alford plays 41 minutes in regulation: 9-1
- BruinsNation writes something nice about it: OFF
- Jordan Adams admits he touched the ball: 18-1
- Larry Scott admits Jordan Adams touched the ball: 5000-1
Something to Prove
They’re paying the team they knocked off a return visit and I can’t imagine the McKale Center is going to be all too kind to the Oregon State Beavers. You have to appreciate that Wayne Tinkle has said that this season won’t be the “year we beat Arizona.” Beating one team does not a season make. Since breaking down in his news conference after beating then #4 Wisconsin, Eddie Jordan’s Rutgers Scarlet Knights are 0-4. They’d just won their championship. Conversely, Tinkle and his Beavers are 3-1 with their eyes on bigger things. Yes, winning in Tucson and sweeping the Wildcats is a tall order. But beating ASU on the road is far more reasonable, conceivable, and immediate accomplishment.
Something to Lose
Washington evidently had someone to lose and it’s in a big way. We won’t dwell on that even though last week we thought Colorado had their season to lose while playing short some critical talents. Turns out, just giving a good effort is enough to earn some PacHoops love. Good job, Buffs! Washington still isn’t our team with the most riding on the line this week. I think that distinction belongs with the Stanford Cardinal. They’ve navigated the circle of suck, as Spencer noted, to a 5-2 conference record. They’ve won at Texas and held court against Connecticut. But they now take all that on the road where Dawkins’ teams are 31-50 All-Time. Woof. At this point, however, the Cardinal are playing the role of expected victor not enigmatic maybe. Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown are granite not sandstone. Is this the year Stanford rides that soundly into the NCAA tournament? It seems that way today, a road trip to Washington could alarm us otherwise.
Texts From Family Members
First off a big thanks to Rush The Court for the opportunity, again, to attend Pac-12 Media Day. Appreciate getting to go and their trust in me to cover the event.
For me, Media Day is about the experience. Larry Scott noted as much in his opening remarks, that it’s an opportunity for the student-athletes to do something they don’t necessarily always get to do. For Brandon Ashley, it was the chance to come home and answer to his mom. She asked the last question of the Power Forward, confirming that he was taking his vitamins and that he was ready for the season. You should’ve seen how Brandon beamed, smiled, and got embarrassed all at the same time. I call it 2015’s first shining moment. Continue reading
Tomorrow, for the third straight year, I will be attending the Pac-12’s Basketball Media Day. Can’t wait. In all honesty, it’s a little boring. I love the opportunity to go but there are platitudes abound. More gets said by the Guilty Remnant.
The fun part is reading between the lines. Like knowing Andy Enfield ripped UCLA and hearing him have to then praise UCLA. Or listening to Bob Dibler discuss Ed Rush and trips to Cancun. Basically, nothing will be said tomorrow that shocks us.
But what if it didn’t play out that way?
I’ve scripted the questions I’d like to ask and provided what I think coaches will respond with and what I wish they’d respond with. Continue reading
- The Commissioner – I read spots like this and it’s hard not to think we missed out on the ‘good old days’ or something so beyond cool I can’t reconcile doing anything in the current age. Where’s my curbside Midnight In Paris pickup? I want to rub elbows with Larry Bird and crush the loosely illegal bottle of Rose. I’d love to challenge Don Nelson to one-on-one. I instead settle for giddy one-on-ones with Nick Johnson. And sportswriters are such a romantic lot. Listen to the way Ryan’s contemporaries talk about him. But we only get to be revisionist because we’re also contemporary. Today is pretty terrific, too. I do get one-on-ones with Nick Johnson after I started a blog. This blog. In some regard, Bob Ryan helped build that.
- Washington hires woman to lead men’s basketball operations – While we’re somewhat, loosely, on the subject of progress, how about this move by LoRo and company? Tiffani Walker is joining the Washington staff and that’s an exciting development. From scheduling and other logistics, Walker will be in the thick of a major college basketball program. It seems unconfirmed whether she’s the highest ranking female within a major college program. She will be the only female on staff in the Pac-12 and the first ever female to join UW’s staff. Congratulations and best of luck.
- ASU Basketball: Jahii Carson may be gone, but tempo will still be emphasized – Did you guys spend any of your weekend curious about whether or not Herb Sendek was going to try and push the pace again? I kinda did and then Connor helped lead me to the answer. I don’t necessarily agree with the move – tempo I’m discovering in a project I’m working on is one of the first things to change before a coach gets fired. And Herb’s quotes seem less than confident (Let’s do it!). Nevertheless, here’s the plan.
Look, you know my stance on this institution. My intro will therefore take a very matter-o-fact tone. Only later will I decide whether or not to let you fill in the blanks or if I color it for you.
Herb’s contract was extended on the heels of beating Arizona and a return to the NCAA tournament. Herb achieved the tourney invite by playing the fastest brand of basketball he’s ever coached. Not coincidentally, last year’s team was also the best defensive team (by national ranking of AdjD) Herb’s had in Tempe. Their offense was the second most productive (109 ORtg) he’s built in Wells Fargo. That tempo was motored by Jahii Carson. That defense was anchored by dPOY, Jordan Bacnynski. That offense was stabilized by Jermaine Marshall and the vaunted Jahishall (a three pointer assisted by Jahii – and while I can’t tell you exactly how many Jahishalls were made, 57% of Marshall’s shots were threes, 92% of those that he made were assisted, 62% of Jahii’s assists resulted in a three – that’s a lot of Jahishalls). Those three are gone. What remains? The Guilty Remnant Cult.
Why I Love Them:
You know the great fallacy of men is that we don’t like drama. We’ve bro’d out over so many fresh coldies citing how much we hate and don’t need drama as the conversation turns to how excited your are to watch this month. The mystique is in the unknown, the drama. The unexpected becoming reality, narrative unfolding and collapsing before us. We don’t like drama. We crave it. Just don’t date it.
Here’s the evening’s preview of drama.
#7 Oregon vs. #2 UCLA, Yes Please O’Clock at Get to a TV Standard Time
The Scoring Game
Before Oregon started this little eight gamer, we allowed ourselves some optimism because they had arguably the toughest stretch of their schedule upcoming: @UCLA, ASU, AZ. And then news broke that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams did something likely sophomoric (another intended pun) and would not participate in that game. This. Because when you start 13-0 and then go 2-8 we start to care less about how you’re winning and more about whether or not you ever will again. The Ducks are and I can’t agree more with this Ernie Kent quote:
The scariest thing is that they’ve got their swag back.
I wouldn’t even call it scary. I’d call it Errol Childress. This is a group of transfers – a team that spent the middle portion of their season playing uninspired, lackadaisical basketball – who came to Eugene to Just Do It. And now they have their swag back!? We criticize the system of aggregating these castoffs and are quick to highlight its faults as this team faltered. But now they have their swag back. Because for all of the chemistry flaws we could cite that caused their near collapse, we can redefine those – certainly now – as strengths. Their strengths are their weaknesses. SWAG.
Of course while we’re on this narrative kick, did you see the ass kicking UCLA just endured? I haven’t really discussed it much but note that teams were putting up 1.16 points per possession against the Cougs in the thirteen games since they’d last held a team below 1.00ppp. So naturally WSU would hold the conference’s best offense (1.15ppp) to 0.82ppp. Only Mississippi Valley State and San Francisco State fared worse against the Cougs. All of which is to say that game was literally an aberration. You couldn’t run that through a simulator a gajillion times and never get an event remotely close to that. Which is to say UCLA would seem to be pissed and far from defined by that game/outcome. Furthermore, UCLA has lost 3 of 4 to the Ducks and probably thinks they should have won the Wear family miracle so that both David and Travis could stake claim to last second heroics in defeating Oregon. Alas, stories aside, this is a great match up.
Our first stop down match up lane is with Oregon’s offense. I’ve called them a mid-major with a budget and I’m going to stick to that. Yes it’s important for them to get defensive stops but it’s not their strength (SWAG). The three point shot is important to them. During this eight game win streak, they’ve maintained 33% of their offense from distance (their season average) but are shooting a blistering 46% from deep. Aside from these eight games, the Ducks shot a great 37%. But 46% as a team? Compare that to their losses where we find the Ducks taking 56% of their shots from deep and connecting on just 33% of those shots. Fair to say the Ducks live by the three and die by it? Now consider the fact that UCLA allows teams to shoot 41% of their offense from deep and begin to make your game considerations. Of course if Oregon is going to try and outscore you, UCLA is the team that can counter by outscoring them. They lead the conference in offense and they do that by getting into transition. They get into transition by stealing basketballs (Jordan Adams is the school’s all-time single season steals leader). UCLA is sixth in the nation in creating fast break offense from a turnover. Meanwhile, Oregon ranks fourth in the conference and 41st nationally in TO%. It means they take care of the ball pretty well and limit opponents to the 12th lowest percentage of transition offense from a steal, 4.1% (IT’S MARCH AND I’M DEEP DEEP DEEP DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE). In some regards, it would seem Oregon has the transition antidote, but collectively, the Ducks are an average (128th) team in limiting transition attempts. In summary:
DUCK SWAG AND SHOOT. BRUIN MAD AND RUN
#3 ASU vs. #6 Stanford, Do you actually think this game will tip remotely close to its scheduled tip after three games, three intermissions, and a clearing of the venue? PST
The What’s Stanford Going to Do Game
If you were watching the Stanford-WSU game then you definitely don’t live on the East coast (I see you, CE). But you also heard Don MacLean exhaust the Stanford-must-win narrative. Now, to be fair, it was his fourth game of the day – a marathon. I imagine he did well at XS last night but that’s probably a tale we won’t soon hear. On that note, how much do you think KO is hating being relegated to the SF studio show when – you know – Vegas? Digression. Stanford needed to win that game – obvs – and they did. Post-game, Dwight Powell dropped the rare truth-and-reality bomb when he noted that he had never been to the NCAA tournament. Now I already mentioned that MacLean exhausted it and I already mentioned that I didn’t want to exhaust it when discussing Cal. But in Stanford’s case, this may be nonexhaustive. They’re the class that stayed – nary a one transferring or leaving early, a rarity these days. And they’ve never been to the NCAA tournament. So where are they today? Who cares. The Card need a few less f**ks given and some more of the Ernie-sais-quais: SWAG. Matt said it great on WANE yesterday, “…they don’t do anything easy. Stanford does things the hard way.” Which I thought was the easiest way (see what I did there?) to describe the Cardinal. In diving further into it, I got to thinking about how we make things easier for ourselves. Usually, when I want to make something easier, I’ll ask a friend. I’ll seek help. I’ll look for an assist! AHA! So I looked at Stanford’s assist rate and – low and behold – it’s the lowest in the conference. They have two First-Team All-Conference performers (Powell and Randle), an All-Defensive stud (Huestis), and the most improved player (Anthony Brown) in the conference. It’s a team littered with talent working in silos. Which would explain how/why Stanford has no bad losses (aka teams less talented than them) and really only a handful of quality wins (@ UConn, UCLA, Oregon). They’re 4-8 against the RPI top-50.
But maybe that’s enough about the Cardinal. Because they’re playing Maroon and a few contemporaries of mine like ASU to make a run into the championship game. They’ve got the right pieces – play making point guard, shooting off-guard, game changing big – and the venue is neutral which means it’s not a road game. The Herbivores were just 2-7 on the road this season. And there’s further data to suggest that the MGM serves as Jahii’s friendly confines. In last year’s Pac-12 tournament, Carson averaged 29 points on 61% shooting. He mixed in 11 assists and 9 boards while he was at it. So is it worth noting that Carson averaged 25ppg on 61% shooting against Stanford this season? Probably not (sarcasm font). But what we should note is that the Cardinal are pretty big up front. The third component of ASU’s projected success – game changing big in the form of a Bachynski – was a moderate factor in losing to Stanford (36 minutes, 7 points, 10 boards, 2 blocks) and a non-factor in beating them (15 minutes, 2 points, 3 boards, 0 blocks, 4 fouls). Is he a factor in this game? Hard to say. Stefan Nastic isn’t afraid to bump and Jordan isn’t afraid to flop. For all their size, however, the Cardinal make little effort to get to the rim. They rank 304th nationally in percentage of shots at the rim, begging the question – if we haven’t asked it already – is Bachynski a factor in this game? I mean, having an NBA prospect man the paint never really hurt anyone but it would seem that this will be the Jahii show. And he’s not afraid of that.
On this day of St. Valentine I have neither brilliance or wit for you. I’m simply going to rampage through bullet points of facts surrounding tonight’s Arizona- Arizona State game. Hooray love because I espouse lots of it in the subsequent bullets (a fitting organizational tool for such a game):
- 95/110, 98/115 – These are the offensive efficiency numbers for Carrick Felix and Jermaine Marshall in their season without then with Jahii Carson
- 2/14/1912 – Arizona becomes a state! The belief is that the name Arizona was derived from the O’odaham name alĭ ṣonak which meant “little spring.” This subsequently was Major League Baseball’s rationale for moving Spring Training to the Valentine State.
- 36%/4.6/4.3/0/3 – That is Jordan Bachynski’s FG%, ppg, rpg, apg, and bpg against Kaleb Tarczewski. His normal numbers in the last two seasons? 59%, 10.7ppg, 7.2rpg, 0.3apg, 3.8bpg. Kaleb might own somebody?
- Local Talent – Both Nick Johnson and Jahii Carson are from Phoenix. They grew up playing there together. They’ve faced off just once in Tempe. Johnson scored 19 points, Carson scored 22, and the Wildcats won by 17.
- +55 – Point differential in Arizona’s favor across the last three Territorial Cup games
- 2-7 – Herb Sendek’s record against Arizona since Sean Miller became the coach in Tucson
- 13 vs 9 – ASU has more all-time tournament wins (13) than Arizona has Sweet-16 wins (9).
- This –
Yesterday I wrote about the Pac-12 POY race. I introduced some new names and addressed the progress of some of the serious contenders. I even explained why a few guys would have great years but won’t win the award.
Jahii Carson is going to win the Pac-12 POY award.
Maybe it’s the Holiday Egg Nog and the spirit of hyperbole in this jolly time of family, giving, and caring. A Happy Hanukkah Eve to you and yours. But Carson does things on a basketball court that the other kids can’t. Quickly with the numbers: He plays has scored or assisted on 46% of the Sun Devils’ made baskets. He’s 5’10” and he’s half their offense. And when he’s not on the floor:
Jahii Carson might be the most important player in country to his team. Arizona St has just 1 basket since he went out with his 2nd foul
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) November 26, 2013
Now I’ve already once mentioned hyperbole and I already made a prediction that he’d be the POY. We’re just 170 words into this party and that’s already transpired. But Carson is doing it. Doing everything. And on Monday night he did it again, leading ASU to their first win over a ranked opponent since January 8, 2010. One week after that win, in Tempe, I’d run my best Half-Marathon: 1:37:22. There’s no correlation between the two events, but note it has been a long time since ASU beat a ranked opponent.
Hell, with Jahii’s latest 23 point, 5 assist and >50% shooting effort, he made this happen:
— Dawn Rogers (@Rogers4ASU) November 26, 2013
You guys, I know Herb’s weird but that’s him doing what can only be described as a variation of the dirty bird – perhaps the unkempt fowl? – after a November win. November, not March. A home November win against a team that scored 35 points in a 40 minute basketball game.
Carson has people wildly excited about a program that’s had their coach on the hot seat for 2.5 years. As mentioned, it was the Devils’ first victory over a ranked opponent in 1418 days and even Buzz Williams might dance to that (though I doubt it).
I’m not going to dive into the stats on why Carson is so fantastic. You can already see and read and hear about that in a multitude of other places. Yesterday I asked Jeff Eisenberg if he thought we could put Carson in the National POY conversation. He wouldn’t bite but if the Devils start to become for real, rattle off a win against another ranked opponent this week in Creighton and garner themselves a top-25 ranking they can maintain, I say “Why no Jahii?”
But before we wrap this party, I’ll advocate for the Devil momentarily (I realize the irony in using that idiom here as any article that talks about how great an ASU student-athlete is intrinsically advocating for the Devil), he hasn’t won the big game just yet. He and the Devils have won just one top-25 game with the opportunity to do it again on Thursday.
I’ll be paying attention if I’m not in a turkey and pie coma. And everyone else should be, too. Maybe it’s the holiday hyperbole, but Jahii Carson is your Pac-12 POY.
The state of Arizona has not produced a wealth of basketball talent. Just 19 NBA players prepped in the Grand Canyon State, Greg Smith the most recent and Sean Elliott the most successful. Mike Bibby, born in Phoenix and attended HS at Shadow Mountain, played the most NBA games of any Zonie, 1001. Arizona produced pros have played 125 cumulative seasons in The League. Comparatively, The Palmetto State (South Carolina) has produced 21 pros playing 170 seasons. Two additional pros, 45 mores seasons. By that sophomoric arithmetic, Arizonans generally aren’t that great of hoopsters. Those nineteen pros rank just 35th in America, ahead of Utah’s 17 (Shawn Bradley!) and behind the aforementioned 21 from SC (Jesus Shuttlesworth) and West Virginia (Logo).
So when players from the state move on to play Division 1 basketball, it’s a significant accomplishment. And when players in the state start scoring 40 points in a game or flirting with triple doubles, we’re on to something special.
Something special is what former Phoenix-area prep stars Jahii Carson and Nick Johnson are doing. Hailing from the same state as me, they chose to compete for rival universities and they’re currently crushing the college basketball scene.Let’s start with Carson, the riquickulous one, who almost single handedly defeated the Runnin’ Rebels Tuesday night. He scored 40 points and dished 7 assists. He played 39 minutes and in case you needed a refresher, college basketball games are 40 minutes long. He shot 64% afield and bucketed 1.02 points per minute. He’s a measly 5’10” and made 14 of his sixteen shots AT THE RIM. Do you realize that UNLV has blocked the ninth most shots in the nation (30)? That their 7.5 blocks per game rank fifteenth nationally? The Rebels saw Carson driving the lane and they were licking their chops, ready to put Carson’s shot into XS. Instead, they’re licking their wounds as Carson tear dropped his way – and how beautiful a shot is that floater? – to 40 points and the Devil’s first 5-0 start since Arizona was one year into 27 consecutive NCAA tournaments. What Carson has done in Tempe is nothing short of angelic. On this, his farewell tour, Carson is about to make sure we won’t soon forget his name. He’ll be remembered in the same breath as Fat Lever, Eddie House, and James Harden.
But like Lever before him, he’ll be special because of his Arizona ties. Lever prepped in Tucson, at Pueblo High School. The same HS I never lost to as a starting baseball player and where I got a 4 on a botched administration of the AP Spanish test (though honestly it could’ve been a 3). He’s a legend in the state.
And while Nick Johnson spent a portion of his prep years at Findlay in Las Vegas, make no mistake that he has strong ties as an Arizonan. His father is Joe Johnson who famously held the world record for dunking on the highest rim (11’7”) and attended ASU. Nick grew up in Gilbert before honing his skills at prep school. He now finds himself the centerpiece of a Final Four contender. His role, a changing one according to Sean Miller, is to be the leader of that team. High stakes for anyone, let alone an Arizona prep star. Allow me some other names who’ve held similar roles: Mike Bibby, Sean Elliott, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson. Just one of those players never attended a Final Four (Frye) and we’re not going to talk about it. Every one of them was a lottery pick. That’s the sort of rare and special territory Johnson now finds himself in.
On Tuesday night, Johnson continued his onslaught of Arizona’s non-conference slate. And while it’s not been the most impressive competition, Johnson has been the Wildcats’ rock. Though it’s really too early to try and quantify his season, I’ll qualify it by citing his 23 points inside a raucous and hostile Viejas Arena. Early in the game Johnson squared up and hit a deep three pointer. Across most possessions, this might have been considered ill advised. But I thought it served as a message to his team. That it was OK for them to compete and that he had their backs. Sure the bucket may have come well before the first media timeout, but it resonated across his bench: Game on.
That’s Johnson’s new role, while Carson’s remains about the same: to be really damn good. They’re both fine ball players who grew up playing with and against one another. As the adage goes, you’ve got to play the best to be the best. Today they find that they’re the best after years of Middle school, playground, AAU, high school, and now college competition. Challenging one another to get better and better.
And that drive and competition has perhaps left something of a legacy. Jaron Hopkins out of Dobson High (2013) garnered big offers before winding up at Tad boyle’s blossoming program in Boulder. Michael Humphrey’s (Sunnyslope, #80 2014) is a big out of PHX and is headed to Stanford with fellow Zonie, Dorian Pickins (Pinnacle, 2014). Meanwhile, Zylan Cheatham (South Mountain, #68 2014) is headed to SDSU.
But that’s the future and we can keep an eye on that for another time.
For now, let’s enjoy what Johnson and Carson are doing. It doesn’t happen often.