- Looking for a shot – And here I find myself torn. Recruiting is beast of equal parts science, self-awareness, and bullshit. You’ve got to fill your program with the pieces that will most benefit your program, your style (that’s the science and self-awareness). The bullshit is everything else. I don’t really need to go into it. So what of a kid like this? Is he worth the risk? What kind of a shot does he deserve? If he doesn’t fit your system, don’t take this risk. If you don’t project him out to be successful, you’re not going to help him be successful. But success is relative. Someone’s going to give Ruggles a shot to make shots. I just hope they believe in what they’re doing. Continue reading
It wouldn’t be the preeminent Pac-12 basketball blog if we didn’t get a chance to examine every post season team’s fortunes. Here we get two NIT previews and a CBI preview that digresses into commentary on Andy Enfield.
The not in tournaments:
#2 California Golden Bears
Opening Remarks: I was inside a raucous Haas Pavilion as Justin Cobbs drifted into the left corner, towards the baseline and Kaleb Tarczewski rolled with him. Cobbs elevated, the seven-footer elevated, and the shot was purely released. Cobbs wound up a heap on the ground, the fans wound up a mess on the court, and the Bears wound up in the NIT. That’s not how the story was supposed to end but that’s how it did. The inconsistencies caught up with them and they closed the season losing eight of their final twelve. That’s not a dancing tune and this is a frustrating NIT bid. In 2012 I watched as Kyle Fogg – an Arizona senior I saw grow, develop, and grind into an first-teamer – accepted a bid into the NIT. He handled it by scoring just 5 points on 2-5 shooting inside the McKale Center. He lost, his final game as a Wildcat, to Bucknell. In Tucson. The point here is that Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon have tasted sweet tournament success. They danced each of the past two years and are just a year removed from giving Syracuse all they could handle. And now they’ve drawn a home game against Utah Valley, KenPom’s 198th best team, on the same floor that they beat an undefeated and #1 ranked Arizona team. It’s a different stage.
First Opponent: So you’ve heard of Utah Valley
So yeah, that happened. They also don’t shoot the ball and are going to make an effort to score inside the arc with the 333rd slowest offense in the nation. This offense is actually pretty impressive considering they take such a deliberate amount of time and conjure the 13th best A/FG ratio in the country. This suggests that their patience pays off. But not that much. They’re still the 209th most efficient offense. Cal should roll and throw zero basketballs at anyone in doing such.
Stories: The NIT committee doesn’t have the same undisclosed and denied sense of drama that the NCAA committee has. I mean, what do you want me to tell you? There was some sort of sick conservatism joke being played on Cal within their quad? They play a school from Utah with a potential second round game against Arkansas or Indiana State? I don’t suspect that to be the case but I also don’t see the Bears staying very long in this tournament. That’s not an indictment on their talents, but rather a recognition that they’ve already the filet, they don’t want the chuck.
- Win the National Invitational. They’re still good enough to make a run like that.
- Out before first tip on Wednesday
#5 Utah Utes
Opening Remarks: Whereas an NIT invite was a let down for Cal, Utah has been on a different trajectory. No one has asked Utah to do anything except join the Pac-12 since 2009. Pardon, they went to the Sun Bowl, but I think we’re walking in stride here. It hasn’t been the sexiest three seasons in the Conference of Champs for the Utes. So garnering this invite was a big deal no matter how illegal what Arizona did to them is in Utah. Now, did I think they’d be a higher seed? Yes. Did I think they’d get to host a game? Yes. Neither is happening for the Utes. But sometimes, when you haven’t really demonstrated a track record of success (in recent history! I know all about Utah as the 11th winningest program) you don’t get treated preferentially. So, they’ll travel to win this thing.
First Opponent: Utah will return to the Bay Area to face the St. Mary’s Gaels. The first thing I want to note is that the last time they traveled to the Bay (2 weeks ago) they beat Cal for their second road win (big accomplishment) and gave everything they had for 39 minutes and 30 seconds to Stanford. Mal-execution cost them the Bay sweep but the overarching sentiment here is that the Utes set a precedence for A) Winning on the road which they had not done all season, and B) Winning in the Bay area. Moraga, CA is just 13 miles from Berkeley. This is familiar territory for the Utes particularly considering they’re basically playing a slightly better version of Washington State: slow as a turtle, threes like preschool. Of course WSU beat Utah which is seemingly inexcusable and perhaps an aberration. That weekend sweep in Washington were the Utah’s only losses to non-tournament teams. Enough revisionism. You knew I wasn’t going to get through a Utah bit without mentioning shots at the rim, right? St. Mary’s allows the 214th highest percentage of shots at the rim (38.8%). Hello, Delon.
Stories: The tale here is that Utah is in the post-season. Here is a program trajectory graph I created used highly advance statistical models to understand what Larry Krystkowiak is trying to do:
Oh, that’s just wins you say? Well I’ve long said it’s my favorite statistic and it doesn’t lie very often. Utah is headed in the right direction, a post-season invite is proof of it. A five seed in the NIT is proof they hadn’t been in the right direction. But that’s what March is for. Prove somebody wrong.
- Second Round – Look, they’ve had problems traveling. So going from the Bay, back to SLC, to Minnesota doesn’t exactly sound like an auspicious position to be beating the tournament’s #1 seed.
- First Round – Lose to what’s a pretty decent little SMC team.
#1 Oregon State
Opening Remarks: The Beavers are going to pay $35k to host their first round game. Is this basically the plot premise of Her? This is their fourth time in the CBI. They won it in 2009 and lost in the semifinals to Washington State in 2011. All of these stats I had to look up because I really don’t know anything about the CBI and it will probably remain that way. I’ll peripherally keep an eye on the Beavs but this could be the extent of it. My eyes are on North Texas.
First Opponent: This tournament puts a new spin on the phrase “cost of winning” as advancing means OSU will pay $50k to host the quarters; $75k to host the semis. Whatever the case, the Beavers have drawn Radford who has the 329th best defense in the nation. Oregon State has the 49th best offense. Plus, it’s Radford and what I really want to do is mix in a Tim Floyd wakes up in El Paso reference because UTEP is in the CBI and USC isn’t. But Andy Enfield is still waking up in Los Angeles and so is Isaac Hamilton (albeit UCLA not USC).
- Tournament champions. They’re one of just two high major teams, they’ve won it before, and they’re a senior laden squad. Probably should win it.
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.
- Nick Johnson (POY)
- Kyle Anderson
- Delon Wright
- CJ Wilcox
- Aaron Gordon
- Jordan Adams
- Jahii Carson
- Justin Cobbs
- Joseph Young
- Chasson Randle
- Josh Scott
- Byron Wesley
- Dwight Powell
- Mike Moser
- 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.
- Aaron Grodon (FOY)
- Nigel Williams-Goss
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
- Zach LaVine
- Bryce Alford
All-Defensive Team/DPOY: Johnson gets my vote for dPOY as well.
- Nick Johnson (dPOY)
- Aaron Gordon
- Josh Huestis
- Jordan Bachynski
- 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:
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.
- Jordan Adams
- Jahii Carson
- Spencer Dinwiddie
- Mike Moser
- Dwight Powell
Conference Standings: This is why I love baseball. Two-of-twelve success is only a three game slump. Not a complete disaster.
- Oregon (UCLA)
- Colorado (ASU)
- UCLA (Cal)
- Cal (Colorado)
- ASU (Oregon)
- Washington (Utah)
- Oregon State (Washington)
- Utah (Oregon State)
- USC (WSU)
- WSU (USC)
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:
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:
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
DWIGHT CHARGES WITH FOUR FOULS OVER JOSH SCOTT WITH FOUR FOULS. THAT WAS LIKE TWO LIONS FIGHTING FOR A GAZELLE
— Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) March 6, 2014
Utah @ California
Numbers don’t lie:
Delon Wright will not win the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. His team is too far down the standings, his stats not quite adding up to those of a few others. But he’s most certainly in the conversation. He’s terrific – as I’m about to explain – and the conversation that I want to have regarding his POY candidacy is less _OY and more VP. As in valuable player.
What I like so much about Wright is – shocker from this blog – his ability to create shots at the rim. I examined Kyle Anderson’s ability to do such only to discover that Delon Wright is ridiculously good at it. My opening context will center around gross numbers. Wright has made 119 shots at the rim. Here’s the context:
Wright has gotten 20 more baskets at the rim than any other player in the conference. Including Aaron Gordon. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not positive if this is a true top 12 but it’s twelve names that I thought we would all agree were getting shots at the rim. This group averages about 56% of their shots at the rim and the D-1 average is 38.3%. Interestingly enough, for the vaunted frontcourt of Huestis, Powell, Brown and Nastic, not one Stanford Cardinal makes that list.
Revisiting the data from our Anderson study, Wright creates a shot at the rim on 62% of his possessions. That’s easily the best amongst the players I studied and easily contributes to the Utes’ gaudy 71.6% FG shooting at the rim (4th in the country) and 55.2% from inside the arc (9th in the country). Even more impressively, Wright gets half of his rim attempts in non-transition offense. By comparison, Jahii Carson gets just 35.1% of his rim shots in non-transition scenarios suggesting Wright just may be the better shot creator. Only 18.6% of his non-transition rim buckets are assisted (Carson’s is 28.6%). Is this a good thing? I’d assume so considering Utah has a propensity for late offense. They have the 266th longest possessions in America (18.8 seconds).
Now as a trained scientist, or at least someone with a degree in Human Biology, I’m aware of variables within an investigation. You want just one and so it’s difficult for me to validate Wright’s impact by comparing to last year’s Utes. After all, the current Utes played only 40% of 2013’s minutes. And that was a team that ranked 213th in 2pt FG%. Variables be damned, it’s happening.
So enter Delon Wright and now the 2014 Utes rank ninth in the country in 2pt FG%. They’re 25th in eFG% and I can’t rank it but their true shot percentage is 9% better than the D-1 average. Like I said, there are multiple variables, but the Utes’ offense is vastly improved from inside the arc and amongst their six top contributors, Wright is the only newbie. Perhaps there is only one variable.
Wright isn’t about to win the Pac-12’s POY award, but it just might be such that he’s the most valuable.
If I was the selection committee of college basketball road trips I’d give the Pac-12 the number one overall seed and then anoint them the champion and let everyone else battle it out. How many other conferences offer Gameday worthy basketball and Olympic worthy skiing in the same weekend? The Pac-12 is a destination. Good weekend.
Leader in the Clubhouse: Just as UCLA was creeping into things and Colorado had rattled off four in a row and ASU knocked Arizona seemingly down a peg, the Wildcats went ahead and flexed everything, destroyed Colorado by 27 on the road and shot 60% in doing such (the highest FG% allowed by CU since 12/22/2010). Their defense was its standard great self, limiting the Buffs to 32% shooting. Colorado didn’t garner a FG for the game’s first 10:07. Meanwhile, UCLA lost at Stanford and ASU won nothing and Colorado was on the wrong end of red Saturday night. But this section is less about others and all about the Wildcats. There are but two weekends remaining and they’ve built themselves a two game lead and could clinch this week. The team’s first goal of the season has been to win a Pac-12 regular season title and sweeping the Ski Schools was a huge step in moving towards that goal. And that’s just the numbers of it. Because those other teams were sneaking into the conversation and because it looked as if the Wildcats were reeling. After beating Utah in overtime on Wednesday, Sean Miller felt that just getting the win would be good for his team’s psyche. Then Saturday night happened and it was as if the Wildcats were reminding everyone exactly who they were: the best team in the country.
Biggest Loser: I’ll struggle to note that ASU was the biggest loser because winning on the road is a very difficult task. Last week we noted Stanford was our BL but it wasn’t really a fitting title for them. This section, however, is beginning to take the form of a power ranking where I’m not soon to rain on a cellar dweller but rather note the team that did the least to A) Impress us, B) Improve their NCAA tournament chances. If we’re taking that approach to dolling out this recognition, ASU would seem to fit the bill. Their three headed monster (Bachynski, Marshall, and Carson) combined to shoot 27% for the weekend (17-62). That’s not a recipe for dancing. Moving forward, expect to hear a lot of talk about that Arizona win when you hear about the Devils’ resume.
What we Learned: We certainly confirmed once again that winning on the road is difficult but we’d learned that a long time ago. So for the second week in a row I’m struggling to realize what it is we might’ve learned we’re 8 weeks into the conference season and nearly four months into the whole damn thing. It’s hard to recognize any new truths. But then, this morning, I saw this tweet and I realized we did have something to learn:
Larry K and his staff are doing a whale of a job with these guys, getting them ready to win after the heartbreaker is good coaching.
— GO UTES!! (@UtahPigBus) February 24, 2014
Utah has sustained heartbreaker after heartbreaker. The luck thing (again) but I keep expecting to see this team finally fold. They give Arizona everything they can and more – are a missed free throw away from knocking them off – yet come up short. In some regards it would be excusable for them to collapse. At any moment. They don’t and they haven’t and Larry K has a lot to do with that. After barely eclipsing 50 regulation points on Wednesday the Utes quickly dispelled any semblance of a let down and double up ASU, 51-26, in the first half. That’s an impressive level of maturity, discipline, and focus befit a team possibly capable of a Pac-12 tournament run:
Larry Krystkowiak called his shot in tonight’s post game press conference. He thinks Utah will win the Pac-12 Tournament next month. #Utes
— John Coon (@johncoonsports) February 24, 2014
But I’ve also got to make note of this so that it’s on the record: Oregon. That might be all I have to say about that but the Ducks are looming in the 35-45 RPI range (sweet bubble) and still have games against UCLA, AZ, and ASU remaining. They are the winners of three straight and Mike Moser scored 41 points this weekend. So what I’m saying is that I’m just saying: Oregon. Also, Stanford. Third in the conference, winners of three straight, and playing like the group of seniors that realizes they’re seniors. That said, should the Cardinal finish third in the conference with a sound 12-6 record, is Chasson Randle (18/4/2) a POY candidate?
In Defense of: I need an excuse to mention TJ McConnell’s weekend. Because so often, as the calendar turns to this time of year and the games turn to CBS, the importance of guard play gets magnified. They have the ball most regularly and there’s a reason TO% is a part of the Four Factors. Now allow me to show you what TJ did this weekend in a pair of critical road games with his team seemingly in a tailspin and the conference’s top spot on the line:
20 points, 16 assists, 0 turnovers, 2 wins
His running mate, Nick Johnson, also added 35 points on the weekend but McConnell’s play – I mean ZERO turnovers – was the stuff of special. It’s long been said what a critical piece he is to the Arizona puzzle and this weekend may have been the greatest example of just that.
Also, quick defense of UCLA. They stomped all over Cal on Wednesday and it was equally as impressive as Arizona’s win at Colorado. Haas was loud and ready for that game and the Bruins did as they pleased from wire-to-wire. They lost on Saturday but such is travel. UCLA is still a very good, very scary team.
The YouTuber: Oldie but a goodie and if you haven’t ever seen it, you’re welcome:
I can’t dive into too much hyperbole because it was just one weekend. But I’m really impressed with the Utah Utes. They’re not on the tournament bubble but they might – might – have a chance to have their name at least discussed inside the tournament war room. But not going to dive into hyperbole. OK, maybe some:
Was Utah’s 74-69 win over UCLA on Saturday the Utes’ biggest win of the Larry K tenure?
I’m not sure if that question even really means anything but looking back at his three years in SLC he’s got a few good ones under his belt. They knocked off #19 Oregon last season and eliminated Cal from last year’s Pac-12 tournament. They also held court against CU a season ago and blew BYU out this season. But this win, against a ranked UCLA squad that is…well…UCLA, comes as the greatest Krystko-win at Utah.
Firstly, it was UCLA. The school of Wooden-lore and 11 national titles and everything else that is the powder blue. As a reminder of that lore, I almost got swallowed into the 40th Anniversary of Notre Dame ending the 88 game win streak documentary, but then I realized that it was half Digger Phelps and that my mom was waiting for Pops and I at a restaurant down the street. I digress.
Utah didn’t win this game as the little team that could. It wasn’t like last year’s P12 tourney with the ninth seeded Utes battling into the third round. No, this was a 13-4 team with the belief that they can play with anyone and so they did.
I present the game’s win probability chart courtesy of KenPom:
Utah was the expected victor from the first half’s 8-minute mark on. That’s 28 minutes of gameplay in which Utah was the statistical favorite. They subsequently advance their record to 14-4, further validating for themselves that they are to be taken seriously.
Certainly their fans do. To date, the Utes are second in the conference in per game attendance (9711) as well as second in the conference in total attendance (145,658). Sure the latter of those numbers is slightly inflated by their fifteen total home games (most in conference). But the fact of the matter is people are coming to watch this team play. This program develop.
Like I said, I don’t see this as a tournament bound basketball team but I can’t yet rule that out. For example: They’ve jumped into KenPom’s top-50 and have contests against Colorado (x2), Arizona (x2), UCLA, and Cal remaining. Which is to say they still have opportunities to bolster that light resume. Am I pining to a possible Utah audience? Absolutely, but what is there, if not hope, amongst fans?
Saturday was a resounding victory for the Utes. The signature win of the Larry Krystkowiak era. Which is to say it wasn’t a fluke, the aforementioned chart suggests it was expected almost wire-to-wire. I’ll try to mute the hyperbole, and Hoyos Revenge will help us remember that Utah tried to give that one away, but that wasn’t just your average win. It was UCLA on the heels of a rough road trip. The Utes, as an emerging program, asserted themselves as an arriving program.
Because sometimes arriving doesn’t necessarily mean landing on the moon and planting your flag.
Sometimes it’s enough to just say that someday you can.
I had a joke all lined up. I subtle jab to get our review going and remind everyone it’s just sports. But then Spencer Dinwiddie’s knee moved in a manner that would break his heart – and ours – and I didn’t feel like joking anymore. Because on the tail end of that bench, in Spencer’s red eyes, was a tragic reminder of why this is our favorite game. Sure basketball is grand but the collegiate version calls to us because we know what we have is brief – four years at best – and then it’s over. On to the next crop of kids wearing familiar colors and left to tell tales of the old days with delusions of grandeur. So when that brevity is cut further short by the body’s failures – sudden and unforgiving – it sucks. We selfishly lose out on the joy of watching our team be the best version of itself in their tiny window for success in that iteration. And then there’s the kid. The one who’d worked his ass off to get into the school, to get into the lineup, to get into the lore of this sport. The one with a mom. Maybe it is just sports but that’s not what breaks your heart about Dinwiddie’s tumble. It’s not that we won’t see him jump, pass, or shoot. It’s that he doesn’t get to.
Leader in the Clubhouse: Arizona remains the number one team in the nation and unblemished on their record. They are the definitive leader. But let’s talk about someone else this week namely the California Golden Bears. Here’s a team everyone except Doug Gottlieb has slept on and perhaps rightfully so. They then lose Jabari Bird and Ricky Kreklow heading into conference play where their first three games are on the road. So naturally they win all three of them. They are tres-and-oh and Justin Cobbs is the man. He’s scoring 19.3 conference points per game, grabbing 4.6 conference boards, and assisting on 8.3 conference baskets for his teammates. And one of those teammates is Richard Solomon who is playing like a man possessed by his seniority. This is his last hurrah and so he’s grabbing all of the rebounds (8th best DR%) and making all of the baskets (56.2% eFG up from 48.1% last year). In case basketball is new to you, when you have a point guard and a center playing well, you have a recipe for success. And Mike Montgomery has a degree from Hogwarts.
Biggest Loser: You can’t drop home games. I mean you can, it’s competition and so anything can happen but if you’re trying to win things like the conference you can’t lose at home. And winning on the road is really important because it’s really hard. Those red letters on the left link to an article I wrote about this very subject. We judge teams based on where they win or lose. I’m judging Oregon. They have not defended their homecourt or anyone for that matter. The points per possession they’ve given up in conference: .89, 1.28, 1.19, 1.21. They have little problems getting the buckets (7th best offense per ORtg) but if they’re going to be taken seriously on a national if not conference level, they’re going to have to start getting some stops.
What We Learned: Well not a whole lot more about Stanford who split their Oregon trip the way few teams will (lose in Corvallis, win in Eugene). Of course if this team’s season long improvement play (what they were going to do differently this year vs. last as told to me by Johnny Dawkins) was to think about the year differently, I’m curious what’s on their mind. They’ve started conference play 1-2 for the second straight year and have almost an identical 15 game record as last season (10-5 now vs. 9-6 then). Not so different as their ORtg and DRtg are also almost identical to the past, too. They’d also mentioned being mentally tougher (part of thinking differently) and thus winning close games. Well that’s kinda working as they squeaked out wins by 2 points at each of UConn and Oregon. Maybe we start a new segment in here that’s just called WHAT DOES THE STANFORD SAY? and then I just write or link to whatever I want and it’s wildly unpredictable and completely upsetting but you’re attracted to that instability by some unintelligible force that keeps telling you that they’ll change. Did I just describe my ex-girlfriend?
In Defense Of: I’ve been all over Utah lately and how interesting what they’re doing has been. What have they done? Well lost 3 of 4 conference games. That doesn’t sound all that interesting but perhaps lost amongst the excitement of their 11-1 start and their thrilling loss to Oregon is that the Utes never really were there. That’s to see, I wasn’t annointing them title contenders or March dancers but rather noting their marked improvement, their progress and the promise of what could be. They’re definitively not there yet. But like previously noted, winning on the road is difficult. Utah took to Oregon and left with two black eyes. But their eyes are blackened because they were in a fight, not because they got their asses whooped. They’ve now lost by a combined seven points and have held a second half lead in every one of their conference games. There’s a measurement on KenPom that looks at luck because sometimes you can’t win them all. I wrote about it with regards to Utah last year. Basically, the Utes are the 345th unluckiest team in the nation right now (see: Dotson, Damyean). They’re 1-3 but that doesn’t yet mean they’re bad. Utes, defended.
The YouTuber: Have you ever seen so much in 82 seconds?
So yes, I skipped a Week 1 preview to give us 14 Things To Watch including DaVonte Lacy who still isn’t playing and got drunk at 10:15am at a restaurant with just my brother and his girlfriend for the Ka’Deem Carey Bowl. Otherwise known as the Not-Dre-Williams-Doak-Winner-Fight-East-Coast-Bias Bowl. But I’m no longer beachfront. I’m just playing softball games in shorts while the rest of the country bundles up. So Week 2 gets previewed.
Game of the Week: This is easily Arizona’s visit to Pauley Pavilion to battle the Bruins. The Cats haven’t won there since we thought of Steve Alford as that guy who failed at Iowa, going 0-3 last season whether the ball was touched or not. And it’s that losing streak – not Rush-gate – plays a huge factor in this game. There are wildly intriguing statistical components to this game I could get in to (and will) but the narrative here, at least in the Arizona locker, is “We haven’t beaten these guys in a year and it hasn’t even been pretty.” That’s to say that home for the Whiteout, handled in Pauley, and the aforementioned ball touch game were difficult pills to swallow. At this point we can cite something about pissed off for greatness; or is that just an awesome video? And if you’re curious about those stats I’d mentioned, exercise some patience, please. I’ve got a whole ditty on that drafted that’s coming on game day. And one last thought here: I wish the game was on a Saturday so I could’ve gone. I just can’t get to Los Angeles on a Thursday at 6pm.
Game to Avoid: This is most certainly not the spiciest of weekends – no geographic rivalry, no top-25 matchup despite the above flirting with it. Thus, the weekend kind of lends itself to an uninteresting schedule. I can’t call the whole damn thing avoidable because that’s just absolutely not the case. But if you find yourself at a bar watching Indianapolis at New England instead of Cal at Oregon State – the only Saturday game – I certainly am not going to blame you.
Something to Prove: This thing’s early so ultimately everyone has something to prove, right? I suppose USC, WSU, and OSU have proven themselves as bottom of the barrel but it is indeed still early – even for them (hey! I’m glass half full guy). Pin pointing one team, however, I’m going to go with the suddenly upstart Utah Utes. They gave the Ducks all they could handle – including the game winning basket – and against Oregon State they took care of business (a characteristic of a good team). They made us all Krystkowiakers (are we going to make that a thing?). But now they hit the road. And while the 2013-14 trip to Washington won’t soon frighten anyone, it’s certainly not about to make anyone comfortable. No road trip will. And when you’re Utah and haven’t played too much outside of the Huntsman Center, well then you’ve got a great opportunity to prove something to us.
And in a shocking new twist: A SECOND SOMETHING TO PROVE! Washington State must prove they can score more than 7 points in four consecutive halves. Or at least more than two field goals (non-football reference).
Something to Lose: I’m afraid I’m going to be picking on these guys all the season long. They’ve already dropped a home tilt to a thinned out Cal team and now they have to play in Oregon? The Stanford Cardinal haven’t been doing themselves too many favors this year. Sure they beat #10 UConn on the road. That was indubitably impressive. Wanna know what’s not impressive? UConn’s 2-2 record since that game. From where I’m sitting (on my couch at 12:51am playing this sweet jam in clothes I worked out in 4 hours ago) the Cardinal will be 1-2 in conference play on Monday. Not the start they were looking forward to. And can you even imagine what a slip up Thursday night in Corvallis would look like?
The YouTuber: This is why someday I want a microphone and an audience.
A few months ago I asked Jordan Loveridge about his role on this Utes team. He said something about his growing role as a leader, but that might have only been because I lead him into it. He did talk about the conversations he’d been having with his coach about him becoming more of a leader before trailing off as teenagers in front of microphones tend to do.
But it was clear that Loveridge was being groomed to lead. On Thursday night he showed us he’s ready. Because leaders don’t always win but they do lead and Jordan took 23 shots in the losing effort. He took the last shot in regulation and the last shot in overtime. In a game ripe for Utah to slink away from, Loveridge scored 11 first half points. We are here to play.
And this could be the article where I tell you how close Jordan and the Utes were to knocking off #10 Oregon. I could yap about how hard the Utes played and that they really were in that one. They can hold their heads high knowing they went toe-to-toe with a top-10 team. Then I’d call it a moral victory and we’d all roll our eyes. And agree.
Not gonna do it.
Not gonna do it because that’s not how the Utes feel about it. That’s not the way it looked and it’s not the walk away feeling on the matter. There was a Duck dog pile afterwards as dejected Utes shook the hands of the Oregon coaching staff. And such a celebration is not indicative of much beyond the fact that it was a fantastic finish; but it is telling to the necessary release after such a struggle. Oregon had lost that game. Utah had won it. And then the buzzer sounded and the score didn’t really say that. It was a terrific basketball game lost in seemingly the most inconceivable of ways.
Oregon is a good basketball team. They have some front court issues but enough talented and contributing guards that they’re always going to be a tough out. It’s worth noting that they showed plenty of toughness themselves.
This being a Utah-centric piece, however, let’s talk about those guys. They held two separate leads in two separate final minutes. That highlights the inconceivability of the loss. But whatever, losses happen and so do wins:
I was surprised by how upbeat Larry Krystkowiak was at the postgame presser. I think he knows the wins will come
— Tony Jones (@Tjonessltrib) January 3, 2014
Because Larry K has weathered quite a storm in Utah to get to this point where we don’t have to call his team’s work cute. Or Cinderella. Or morally victorious. Because for all the talk of their bummer of a schedule, the Utes have been winning – something they haven’t done a ton of these past four seasons.
Leading to Thursday night, the Utes had been sticking to a high potent and effective offense. They’d relied on their leader – Loveridge – to lead (27% of the shots). Their model of 56% eFG shooting had won them eleven previous games. Unfortunately, the distance shooting let them down on Thursday: 3-19 ain’t gonna Duck it. They’d previously been shooting a nationally average 33% from three (for help, 3-19 is 15%). The final shot was a good Loveridge look that rimmed out.
But breaking this one down doesn’t tell us much. This was a basketball game featuring two teams scoring like Wilt: 90.8 ppg for Oregon; 87.4 for Utah. So naturally they played to the tune of 70-68. Collectively they barely broke 0.9 ppp. That was a dog fight.
What we learned from it:
- Jordan Loveridge wants to be a star and so he is
- Delon Wright is as talented as any guard in the conference and he carries himself like it
- Utah is not soon going to sneak up on anyone
- Bachynski is hereditary
It is a moral victory, though. We watched Utah play like they expected to win the whole time. Larry K was upbeat after the game not because he was giddy at how close his team came to winning but because he knows that his team now has every reason to believe in themselves. Jordan Loveridge had talked about becoming a leader and Thursday night he showed us he can be. I like to be process oriented and we’ll learn a lot more about these Utes in how they react to this game. Should they lay an egg on Saturday, drop one to Oregon State, well we can start to make some different assumptions.
But a seemingly jovial K suggests he knows how his team will react. He expected that performance. He expected to win but he didn’t.
Sometimes that happens.
AND NOW THE THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE’S OTHER FOUR GAMES:
- Washington State scored .46 points per possession. Washington State scored .63 points per minute. Washington State put the ball through the basket 14 total times. Washington State scored one touchdown in the first half. All of this is to suggest that Washington State did not score. Arizona won. Contextually, Colorado State scored 18 points (matching WSU’s second half output in Tucson) in 2:52 at the New Mexico bowl [insert too soon BOOs here].
- I suppose it wouldn’t be the start of conference play if we didn’t have a WTF moment. That’s what happened inside Wells Fargo as the conference’s worst defense naturally shut down ASU. The Huskies have been nothing short of pretty bad and they beat the Sun Devils handily. On the road. Makes total Pac-12 sense. They did this last year, too, jumping out to a 4-0 conference record, all outside Seattle. So I ask, upset alert in Tucson on Saturday?
- And while all things Tempe were unexpected, there was something delightfully expected about a depleted Cal team going into Maples and beating Stanford. Because they don’t make sense. Cal won, Stanford disappointed and now let’s talk about Justin Cobbs step-back jumpers with the clock winding down. Maybe the most perfect shot in the game.
- The return of Eric Moreland was the only game I missed and by many accounts I didn’t miss the most exciting of games. The talent level at Oregon State seems to be better than their record and trajectory indicates but such is the Craig Robinson era? Big tilt forthcoming on Sunday as we have our first top-20 matchup in the Pac-12 since Bill Walton liked UCLA!