Tag Archives: Nick Johnson

Andre and Nick

Nick Johnson Declares for the NBA Draft

I put all my eggs into the narrative basket and lost.

In November, I managed to get 5 minutes and 37 seconds with Nick Johnson. I asked him questions and he answered. Together, we came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter what the name of the sandwich he got at beyond bread was, but only that he enjoyed it.

When we pivoted to basketball, he had glowing things to say about the progress of Gabe York and the contributions – to his career – of Kyle Fogg. Nick is a bright and thoughtful kid. I thought I had a nice article brewing. And then I asked him about goals.

I like goals. I’ve played sports my whole life and we used to set them there. I have a job and we set them there. I have a life and I set them there. Goals, as it were, have a tendency to help us achieve things. Sometimes we don’t always reach them, but so long as we try – we try real hard – we can’t soon be called a loser.

That Thursday afternoon, when I asked Nick Johnson what his personal goals were, he told  me, “Defensive player of the year.” Immediately I wanted to text my brother. Holy hell! If Johnson was to be the best defender, then Arizona was surely to be the best defenders, and my goodness were they going to be good. Mid-interview, as a professional courtesy, I didn’t text my brother.

But my excitement surrounding his remarks got me  thinking that maybe I was sitting on something bigger than just a nice preview.

I followed the personal goals question by inquiring as to the team goals. “We want to win the Pac-12 regular season. And then on to the tournament, the Pac-12 tournament and eventually get to a Final Four. And then after…” Here’s where he briefly paused. Then smirked. I think I was sitting calmly in my seat, if memory serves me correctly, but I cannot, confirm this. One can only hope that Johnson didn’t notice the fandom oozing out my pores.

He was wearing a gray Nike Jumpsuit. It was simple, with navy shouldering, the block A, a swoosh, and a patch:

NickPatch

You can kind of see it, another A and another swoosh. But also on there was a year, 1997 to be exact, noted on the sleeve patch. That’s the last and only time Arizona won a national title. After noting that his team was trying to get to a Final Four, I had an opportunity to jump back into the conversation.

My interjection, “You wanna put another patch on that jacket, don’t you?”

He smiled again, the consummate team guy, and told me, “Everything will take care of itself.” I thanked him for his time, we parted ways, and I texted every Wildcat fan in my phone.

But I never wrote the story. Like I said, I put this egg in the narrative basket, gambling everything would take care of itself, and it didn’t. Or at least not the way that I had imagined it. Arizona never made that Final Four. They didn’t even win the Pac-12 tournament. Nick Johnson was not your Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

He was the Player of the Year. The conference’s best player on their best team. He became an All-American and Wooden Award Finalist. I had asked Nick Johnson what his goal was and then I got to watch this kid obliterate that goal. That’s just great.

And yesterday he declared for the NBA draft.

It’s a decision I don’t necessarily agree with but that’s the opinion of the same guy who nearly texted everyone who knew while interviewing Johnson. A totally rational move (sarcasm font). We talked about his goals and he exceeded some with flying colors! He had about as complete a season as a college basketball player could have.

But similar to how it all changed on 2/1, Johnson’s decision leaves us with a lot of ‘what ifs’ that will ultimately A) not be answered until at least November, and B) perhaps never be answered. Indubitably, Arizona would have had one of its most talented rosters the school has ever rolled out had Johnson stayed.

As it were, he’s projected as the 20th PG or SG taken (second round) and the sixth Pac-12 player picked. Also to note, that same projection has seniors Shabazz Napier (1st round) and Russ Smith (2d round) picked ahead of Johnson.

Of course, there’s this:

The kid could come back. This was a very tough decisions. But if we’re going to premise this whole thing on goals, I think Nick sees his: the NBA. I also won’t soon assume to know what back room conversations were had or promises made. I won’t assume to know his rationale or decision making process.

What I can tell you is that I asked a kid about what he wanted to accomplish and then he bested that. Color me impressed. But that’s nothing knew with how I’ve long perceived Nick Johnson.

And I guess this is that strange, beautiful, awkward part of college sports. We know these players enter for a finite tenure. Nick Johnson isn’t leaving to take Steinbrenner money. He isn’t taking his talents to a superfriendship and breaking our hearts in Akron. Nick Johnson has had a goal to play at the highest level of the game he loves. How much can we really begrudge him this departure?

Yeah I selfishly want to see more of him in cardinal and navy. His presence would bring Stanley Johnson off the Wildcats’ 2015 bench. Maybe he’s leaving to be fair to everyone else? Like I said, I think there was more for him to accomplish in Tucson. And I wanted to cheer it, fulfill the narrative I had hoped would manifest.

But there’s even more for him to accomplish outside of Tucson. He’s off to do that.

Here’s to hoping Nick Johnson keeps exceeding his goals.

And Arizona puts another patch on that jacket.

Team Enters

BB: Our 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats

I’m always pretty honest here. I don’t love ASU and, despite being 6’5″, I’ve only dunked a handful of times. Fastballs don’t translate into verticals. And so to get my mind around, and my heart into, re-examining this season – if not that game – I needed some time. A passage of moments to absorb everything that was our (my) last five months. Because my team didn’t win and because they were supposed to. Because I watched a season, five months, rest confidently in the hands of Nick Johnson. And then the season didn’t quite make it out of his hands. To tell you that I didn’t hurt sitting in section 407, row B, seat 4, alongside my brother, would be a Badger faced lie. I hurt, alongside a fan base starving to be in North Texas, watching the most exciting iteration of their team – our Wildcats – fall one point short. Pain.

And in this afternoon there will be departures and returns. Perhaps some coaching changes down the line. New developments that might further dictate our feelings about those five months.

But for now, take a walk with me. Certainly not a run because a run might not let us appreciate things, the actual path. By running, we might get stuck with a singular memory of a ball, in hand, with a backlit backboard, and the wrong score. A run would neglect to recall how we got to Anaheim. So let’s walk. Walk to appreciate how we got there and because sometimes it helps to slow things down, make sure that this blog post doesn’t become one big :(. Also, my middle name is Walker. Fun fact.

Like any walk, I suppose we’d have to begin by getting off the couch. Of course that’s where it all began for me. I was amongst the more than 18,000 streaming a basketball scrimmage on a Saturday afternoon in October. On that day, TJ McConnell played defense. Yes, I was ecstatic to watch a 6’1” Pittsburgher play practice defense. A skill he’d assert 39 more times for my viewing pleasure.

But that was just a practice. We needed, craved, the real thing. And soon thereafter, by a convergence of love, convenience, and coincidence, I celebrated the first two games of the season and my dear friend’s wedding. In Tucson. God bless Sunday weddings in November.

Of course the Cal Poly game left something to be desired. The Mustangs (who would eventually win one NCAA tournament game) made eleven three-pointers and raised questions about whether or not the 2012-13 three-point defense was an anomaly or a trend. The Wildcats would go on to allow the 12th lowest percentage of threes in the nation. Opponents would make just 32% of whatever they got.

But Gabe York started, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed zero rebounds, Jordin Mayes played 4 minutes to turn the ball over 3 times, and the team shot 56% from the line. Was this game foretelling? No, the next game was. An assertion of strength, execution, and we-are-better-than-you up and down the McKale floor.

The tone was set. Arizona would be the most exciting, defense oriented, pace conscious team there could be. At least that’s what we wanted. But their mettle was yet to be tested. Not even a win in San Diego meant enough. A stage, The World’s Most Famous Arena, was the only place to do it. So they went to Madison Square Garden, forced Jabari Parker into what would be the second worst offensive performance of his collegiate career (by ORtg), and left their scent all over the right coast. Early the following week, Carolina would win in East Lansing.

Four days later, Arizona was the number one team in the country. Back.

What do you think of our walk so far? Months of speculation about whether these Wildcats could shoot, lead, or get over their youthful hump had manifested into the nation’s top team. And it was fun. Validation of the previous tribulations that had seemingly set the program back. Number one again.

But this was December. Who cares about rankings – let alone college basketball – in December? The Wildcats had yet to take their toughest trip of the season, a frigid journey to Ann Arbor. I would join them. It become the upset dujour that weekend and perhaps deservedly so. Michigan was a talented squad playing at home. They’d go on to win the B1G and finish a dagger away from their second straight Final Four. Against Arizona, they led for more than 32 minutes. But Arizona won, Brandon Ashley was the best player on the floor during a game featuring countless NBA bound talent, and shit got real. Jim Nantz told me he’d see me in Dallas. I’m serious. The questions weren’t about whether the roster could do this or that, tt became, “Are they the best Arizona team, ever?“ Jim fucking Nantz, you guys! And oh was it fun.

There were these:

aaron-gordon-vs-ucla-b

And this:

Rondae Dunk

And more:

aaron-gordon-double-clutch-reverseThere was a game that Washington State scored 7 points in an entire half. They scored just 0.46 points on each of their 54 possessions; twenty-five collective points from a high-major, Division-1 basketball team. That’s what Arizona was going to do to you.

And then these guys came up to see me. My team! Their first trip to the Bay Area in two years and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. My brother was going to be in town! The Wildcats! What a weekend.

But then it all changed.

The prohibitive favorites, winners of 21 straight and the top team in the land for eight straight weeks (a school record), lost in Berkeley. Sure the score read 58-60 and the court was preemptively rushed. How can an Arizona fan get pissed about that? Irrelevant. It all changed on February 1st when Brandon Ashley broke his foot. At the time, we couldn’t really speak of it. The foot failed but the team would not. Adjustments had to be made because there was still season to be played and we had to see Jim in Dallas. We’re on a walk here, right? Brandon couldn’t walk. It all changed.

And I buried that change, still absorbed by the narrative of January 31st, not February 2nd. Prohibitive favorites and now who knows what? Somberly, we left Haas that night with what felt like a season in flux. A proverbial tipping point. But the season couldn’t be buried in one podiatric misfortune. Onward the Wildcats would go. The feeling was buried. The season endured.

Exhibit A was a two-point home win over Oregon. Exhibit B was a hohum dismissal of the Beavers. The next two games would see the Wildcats in three overtimes, escaping with just one win. They lost in Tempe.

It all changed on 2/1 and whatever we buried was soon to bubble up. The aforementioned post-Ashley exhibits were less than encouraging and Colorado’s Keg was looming. Arizona had never won in Boulder as members of the Pac-12. Regardless, my buried feelings and tempered expectations flew to Boulder. With a busy mind, it wasn’t clear to me what would happen. I should have known better:aaron-gordon-dunk-gifColorado didn’t record a field goal for the game’s first ten minutes and Arizona won by 27. And then they won by 28 and then 13 and again we could believe. We could slip back into Goliath’s slippers and feel good in them.

There was a forgettable trip to Oregon before a defensive tour d’force through the MGM Grand Arena. Utah was throttled and Xavier Johnson – who once noted that the Wildcats “weren’t that good” – would make just 5 of 21 shots against the Wildcats after that January remark. And this:

Aaron Gordon BlockThen the Pac-12 championship game – Arizona and UCLA – was every bit the heavy weight battle it was supposed to be. The Pac-12 deserved and needed it. The Bruins punched first, taking it to Arizona’s top rated defense like no other team all season. The Wildcats, however, shot back. Raining from beyond the arc before settling into their more typical defensive effort. But when push came to shove – and it did – Jordan Adams hit the biggest shot. UCLA was your 2014 Pac-12 Tournament Champions. He didn’t touch the ball.

To this point I haven’t mentioned the walk we were on. It had a title, or at least I had one for it, “The Road to Dallas.” But this is the hardest part of the walk. The path narrows and the way more treacherous. Sudden death is a possibility. Sudden death is a reality. This is the NCAA tournament. You know all of this and when Arizona’s name was called on Sunday, you contemplated how you’d get to San Diego, Anaheim, and Dallas. I did. We toed the waters but never hesitated to jump in. Bring on the challenge.

And a challenge it is. Littered with hyperbolic prose surrounding its uncertainty and glass slippers. Goliaths enter and one exits. But you – we of the red shirts – were behind Goliath. The Wildcats were going to win this whole fucking thing.

And then they didn’t.

I had charged down Interstate-5 with my buddy, Jamie – a lifelong Badger, brilliant hoops mind, sports enthusiast, and beer drinker – for Thursday’s games. My brother was flying into LA to join. Jamie and I crashed at a friend’s Wednesday night, worked from Westwood the morning of, and then invaded the Honda Center. For Jamie, the early game was a breeze. Wisconsin was on to Saturday’s game faster than you could say ‘On Wisconsin.’

The Wildcats then took Thursday’s court and Nick Johnson scored 15 points in the games final 2:45. He made all of the free throws everyone thought the Wildcats would miss to send them packing from this tournament. The dismissal of SDSU evoked little sympathy. Self inflated with a brotastic following dripping with little brotherdom, I couldn’t have ushered them out any faster. And they were removed from the game’s hallowed event by the right  team. The Aztecs gave the West coast a go and the big kids will take it from here. Kthanksbye.

Which of course brings us to Saturday and me next to my brother at the tops of our chairs and lungs. The game itself could be dissected; examined for the minutiae of +/- data, offensive and defensive efficiencies, and probability charts. Ultimately, on the grandest stage where only one advances by any means possible – survival – the Badgers bettered the Wildcats. By one point. It needn’t be pretty, you just need to have the extra point.

For Arizona, they didn’t have the extra point. That’s the hurt stuff.

The kind of stuff that doesn’t let you appreciate an Aaron Gordon overtime three-pointer. He of the comically broken shot stepped into a three in the biggest game of his life. Onions. All the game long nothing would fall for the superfrosh. So naturally he grabbed 18 rebounds – nearly a quarter of all available boards in the game – and stuck that three.

It hurts and you maybe don’t get to remember when all seemed wrong, when the Arizona offense was operating at a second grade level, why not Jordin Mayes? He was there for the offensive rebound and the lay-in with sixty seconds left. In the three years of data I can access (hoop-math), it’s Jordin’s only career putback.

That immediate pain might not allow the opportunity to appreciate a moment like TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson hugging at mid-court. I can’t finger the exact situation but into a timeout, deep in the contest with the outcome in the balances and punches being thrown back and forth, the Wildcat backcourt embraced in the middle of the Honda Center. It was the kind of scene you expect to see with a Luther Vandross backdrop. Shit, I thought it meant they weren’t going to lose.

SPOILER: They did.

I’m late on all of this but I needed to get away from the suddenness of zeros and no more games. As noted I’m honest on here and the flurry of “UCONN!?!?!?!?! REALLY!?!?!?!?” texts into and out of my phone was…abundant? Ubiquitous? Fiery? And all of that heat was promptly followed by an outpouring of everything we couldn’t discuss after 2/1. A date we won’t forget and can’t neglect in reviewing, even appreciating, this season. Goliath down a peg.

Which is the end of our walk. A saunter through five of the most exciting and unique months of fandom I can recall. We felt promising optimism and crippling defeat. I saw triumphant revenge, fierce confidence, and assertions force. We hoped, believed, and hurt. We did it together and that’s the overarching importance of sport. 2013-14 was section 407 with my brother; the living room with my best friends;  a bar with countless strangers; every arena I entered. In taking this walk, it’s my hope that you remember where you were and who you were with for each of the shining moments that were this season.

Those illuminated flashes that define our favorite game are brief because they’re shared. If 68 enter and only one leaves, then we have to believe in those shining moments. We can share those and remember when.

The first games begin in November with the promise of a whole season with anticipation for the unexpected and hopeful before us. And then we get caught in a sprint. Running to March in search of the shining moments that just might not come. Everything changed on 2/1 and maybe that’s OK? Maybe it’s not. It’s OK to remember, just don’t get stuck in Haas.

And remember this walk, and all the fun you had watching the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats Men’s Basketball team.Team Enters

wane

WANE: D.A.N.C.E

Honestly, Spencer and I did one of the better NCAA tournament previews you will ever hear. Unfortunately, only Spence, myself, and our respective computers and perhaps roommates will know. Media malfunction. Or user error. This is a basketball blog not a semantics debate so let’s cut to the hoop: D.A.N.C.E. Sure we missed the overall preview but if coaches keep their jobs with Sweet Sixteen appearances, then consider us the Steve Lavin-now-Johnny-Dawkins of podcasts. Listen:

 

Now, as for The Table. This was a tough one to wrap this week. Road trips to Anaheim aren’t conducive to writing but are conducive to content. More to come.

Instead I can just effuse briefly on what a great day it is for Pac-12 basketball. I know it’s “just” the Sweet Sixteen but there’s something to be said about having three teams in it. There’s something to be said about coming from where the Pac-12 did over the past few years and where it is today. That something is: Bravo. The proverbial bull’s horns have been grabbed and the Pac-12 is reminding a lot of people that there is basketball – good basketball – played after 10 pm EST.

A dear friend, new to New York, has noted his increased Pac-12 defense. He’s a Wildcat, as good as they get, but knows he must sing the praises of Kyle Anderson and Dwight Powell for the world to notice his TJ McConnell. Or just to get Kyle Anderson the attention he deserves. And maybe he doesn’t want it? Maybe he – and Dwight and TJ, too – don’t care who’s saying what about them but rather just the simple fact that they’re playing, and 42 other teams are jealous.

And how sweet would it be to watch Stanford and UCLA battle – round 4 – inside the Memphis’ FedEx Forum for the South Regional title. Has a nice ring to it, no? Unless you’re CBS.

 

powell-dwight-randle-stanford

A Sweet Preview and Some PacHoops Art

I’ve been to Honda Center a handful of times. Most notably when it was called The Pond and we were all Might Ducks fans. Classic. For now, however, I want to discuss – before getting into the three Pac-12 sweet sixteen games – what I expect the gym to look like on Thursday when I’m there. It will be full of Badgers, Aztecs, Wildcats, and then the Baylor Bears. Here is my rendition of what the inside of Honda Center will resemble:

HondaCenter

Inside the Honda Center

Tell me I’m wrong?

 

Arizona v Colorado#1 Arizona vs. #4 San Diego State

Storyline: I love what Arizona has a chance to do here (shocker, right?). Should they advance to do what KenPom says they have the second best odds to do, Arizona would have beaten both SDSU and Gonzaga in doing such. Fitting. Last year the Zags were the first Western-based one-seed since UCLA in 2008. They were bounced like Shockers (round of 32). As for the Aztecs, between 2009 and a December 2012 loss to Arizona, SDSU won seven straight games against Pac-12 schools. They haven’t lost to a California based school in something like two Steve Fisher lifetimes (42+ games to be more exact). The Pac-12 was also doing things like not sending their conference champion to the NCAA tournament and so SDSU and Gonzaga were staking legit claim to the crown of West Coast hoops. But then Arizona beat SDSU in Hawaii (as far West as it gets) and again, in their house this past November. Arizona is reestablishing itself as the coast’s elite, San Diego State is trying to win the MWC’s first Sweet 16 game since 1991 (of current MWC members).

Style to keep an eye on: Look, let’s make no bones about it: San Diego State struggles to score. Like their offense ranks just a spot ahead of Northern Colorado and below Northwestern State. #GillingIt. They shoot the 304th ‘best’ FG% on their 2pt jump shots. This does not bode well for them. Arizona’s #1 rated defense is going to force them to take a lot of these shots. Their defense – as we’ve discussed – is predicated on forcing this shot and they do it better than anyone else in the country. So if you want me to run the math for us, I will: Arizona is going to force SDSU to take a ton of shots they don’t make. Rock. Hard place. And the Aztecs don’t really do themselves any favors. They’re already offensively inefficient and they assist on the third lowest percentage of made FGs in the country. For a bro school, they’re really not being bros. Share the rock.

Match up to keep an eye on: Sean Miller doesn’t think there’s a “better guard in the country.” Never mind that his own off-guard is an All-American, Miller effused about Xavier Thames. And rightfully so. He’s putting up 27 per tournament game and draws fouls at a nearly 60% rate. Trouble with a capital DEPTH ISSUES FOR ARIZONA. But, this is our match up section. That All-American we mentioned? He happens to be really good at guarding big guards no matter their skill set. Ask Jordan Adams, Roberto Nelson, Chasson Randle, Justin Cobbs, or Xavier Thames! Last time around Thames got his points (note that aforementioned foul line) but he had to work for it; shooting 5-16 and just 3-12 from inside the arc. As noted, Thames is hot and the Aztecs have needed about every one of his buckets. Should be one helluva battle.

Norman Powell, Xavier Talton#4 UCLA vs. #1 Florida

Storyline: The Gators have eliminated UCLA in three of their last six NCAA tournaments. That’s interesting by itself but now let’s note that one of those eliminations came in the national title game and another came in the national semifinal (Final Four if you need an assist). Florida won back-to-back titles and UCLA watched Ben Howland lose his team, program, and eventually his job. We could play the Sliding Doors game and note the ‘what ifs’ but that’s just mean (Like I don’t dwindle on Tim Floyd or Kevin O’Neill thoughts as an Arizona fan). This one means something to the UCLA community no matter who struts that sideline.

Style to keep an eye on: All of it. UCLA wants to get shots up, owners of the 15th shortest possessions in the country. Conversely (a key word as we walk through this match up) Florida forces teams to take the 2nd longest possessions in the country. The Bruins do one helluva job of stealing the ball and turning that into transition offense. I writed all abouts it. They’ve got the 4th highest steal rate in the country feeding the 39th highest percentage of transition offense. The converse? Florida’s offense has a very mediocre steal rate (ranks 188th) but have the 13th best transition defense. Are you with me here? These two have very opposing styles which makes for one terrific match up. It projects to be a lot like the Pac-12 championship game which was phenomenal. Hooray the March sport!

Match up to keep an eye on: I’m going to list a few because I’m interested in this. First, Kyle Anderson and Will Yeguete. Few people can stop let alone slow, Slo-Mo. He’s too big for traditional guards, to crafty for bigs, and too good for the rest of the floor. Will Yeguete, however, may have the guile (read: size and athleticism) to contain the point-forward-center-wing. Yeguete is their 6’8″ garbage man. I mean, how much dirty work does a guy have to do be considered the guy that does the dirty work on a Billy Donovan team? Lots, and he just might be dirty enough to stop Anderson. Conversely (I’m using it again), there’s nothing dirty about Michael Frazier’s jumper. It’s a thing of beauty. He connects on 44% of his threes and Shot Analytics went ahead and reminded us just how good he is (spoiler: quite good). And UCLA’s defense poses the match up here. They allow the fourth highest percentage of shots to come from distance. Me thinks Michael is going to get some looks. Also, I’ve got to mention the transition D (Florida) vs. transition O (UCLA), again. SUCH A GREAT MATCH UP THAT I’M NOT GOING TO GET TO WATCH WITH DUELING TIP TIMES WITH AZ-SDSU. Uggggh.

Stanford v Connecticut#10 Stanford vs. #11 Dayton

Storyline: Three weeks ago Stanford was dead to rights. They had just lost at home to Colorado on a weekend that probably couldn’t see them lose at home to Colorado. And then, on the season’s final Saturday, I was looking up at the television to see Utah with the ball down a point with Delon Wright on their roster, a shade less than a shot clock of time remaining, and presumably a play drawn up to sink Stanford’s dancin’ chances. Evidently the Utes didn’t have a play, dribbled everything out and eventually off themselves and Stanford won. And they’ve subsequently beaten Kansas, too. Yup, the Kansas Jayhawks lost to Johnny Dawkins’ Stanford Cardinal. The Card have now claimed two of their four biggest wins since joining the biggest stage. So what’s beating KenPom’s #44 team, Dayton (rated below ASU and Utah)? Let’s just say the Stanford Cardinal – dead to rights, playing for their coaches job – have a very legitimate shot to be playing for a Final Four against a team (UCLA) they’ve already beaten. Think about that. And why the hell not? Stanford beat Kansas - Kansas – without making a single three pointer! The Jayhawks hadn’t limited an opponent to zero 3-pointers since 11/26/2010 when Ohio went 0-18 and Kansas won 98-41. Reread that score. A week earlier the Jayhawks did the same thing as North Texas went 0-12 and Kansas won 93-60. Stanford went 0-9 from deep and beat Kansas.

Style to keep an eye on: Don’t expect Stanford to win going oh-fer from distance this time. Not necessarily because of Dayton – they actually defend the three quite well – but because of the law of averages. Alas, this game won’t soon hinge on the three pointer. This is a game Stanford should win. They’re the bigger, stronger, faster kids who just beat – arguably – the biggest, strongest, fastest team. They’re playing as good of defense as they have all season (0.85ppp) and it really doesn’t matter what they’re doing offensively if they can do that. Similarly, Dayton has been playing sound defense, allowing teams under 0.9ppp in the tournament. Granted, they’ve upset Syracuse and Ohio State who are (were?) more defensively oriented, but that shouldn’t take away from their defensive efforts. Meanwhile, the Flyers haven’t particularly scored it well. They are well below their average offensive efficiency in the dance. Ultimately, this could come down to a battle of who can out ugly the other, garner a few easy baskets off of turnovers or offensive rebounds (looking at you Josh and Dwight, though the O-boards aren’t Stanford’s game). I’ve been saying it for awhile, that I’m no longer concerned with pageantry, but if you need to see something that looks good, avert your eyes from this game.

Match up to keep an eye on: The best match up here is Stanford staring down the barrel of Father Time. I’ve spoken about it all over the place – how this is Johnny Dawkins’ group of seniors that stayed. I could note Devin Oliver, Dayton’s stretch-ish four. A 6’7″ 39% 3FG% who is still taking 36% of shots at the rim and leading the team in rebounding…and assists. A similar player to Dwight Powell in that versatility. But at this point, it’s all about Stanford. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing. They are on their last legs. A team on some semblance of a mission to play one more game together. And then another. And another. Until there just aren’t any more games to play. Hooray the March sport, indeed.

Kansas Stanford

Three Pac-12 Teams Are So Sweet

Pretty good time to be a Pac-12 blogger if you ask a Pac-12 blogger. Three teams are tasting the sweetness of March while another three ended their seasons. And even two of those defeats were in spectacular fashion. Actually, all three of the departed left in spectacular fashion – Colorado’s case was just a little…different than the others?

General Thoughts: If this doesn’t stir up some dust in whatever room you’re in then I’m not entirely sure we’ll get along.

mcdermott1This is real life Field of Dreams but on a basketball court without racist ghosts. This is life’s simplest and universal beauty – father, son, ball – on the biggest stage we can conjure. They both called it special and I’d venture to call it perfect. Thank you, McDermotts.

And while we’re on the topic of perfection, Wichita State-Kentucky. That ranks amongst the greatest games I’ve ever seen played. I hate that we think this somehow legitimizes or otherwise the Shockers. One game does not define a team or a season. It doesn’t define a conference or a schedule. But it can tell you a helluva lot about what’s underneath a jersey. That game was all guts. It was onions and stones and ice. If WSU was going out it was tooth and nail. If Kentucky was going out it was as the team we thought they’d be. And if you still need rationalization for the legitimacy of Wichita State, I challenge you to find a better game Kentucky has played all season. It took a roster of 4-7 first round draft picks playing their best game of the season to knock those kids off. Read this. That game was everything we could’ve wanted. Yeah, I wanted banked threes and Cleanthony steal-n-dunk and that Young three. Perfect. Also, how wrenching is 35-1? Can’t even imagine.

This:

#1 Arizona Wildcats

You guys want to talk about Arizona’s free throws? Yeah, me either. I’m off the pageantry wagon. This is the time of year when you survive and advance. Survival isn’t about looking cute, it’s about not dying. Aron Ralston cut his own god damn arm off to not die. He drank his own piss. So if Arizona beats a sixteen seed by 9 and misses a handful of free throws in doing, I’m not going to lose sleep over it. Because they could also turn Gonzaga over on nearly 30% of their possessions and thunder their way into the Sweet Sixteen. We know what teams can and can’t do at this point. Arizona can roll you and wants to:

“I don’t like the term `survive and advance,’ “ Gordon said. “I like the term `dominate and advance.’”

#4 UCLA Bruins

I could dive into the Bruins’ two wins – look into the terrific play of Jordan Adams and what an ex-factor Norman Powell is. I could note that UCLA is yielding less than 1 point per possession. The kind of defense the supplements perhaps the most high octane offense remaining in this tournament. Could get into some Steve Alford love as he heads to his second ever Sweet Sixteen (kudos). But ultimately UCLA’s games were uninteresting, only briefly competitive, and played against Tulsa and a school seemingly named after a Wrestler and TV character (though 32-3 is a very impressive season). I’m passing on all of that and ignoring that this is a review because I’m so excited for that UCLA-Florida game on Thursday. The Bruins are on a three game March losing streak to the Gators. The Bruins are a phenomenal offensive team. The Gators are a phenomenal defensive team. Will Yeguete guarding Kyle Anderson. The Wear family guarding Patric Young. Gimme this game.

#10 Stanford Cardinal

Johnny Dawkins going full Steve Lavin on us I see. But credit where it’s due: our guy, JD, outcoached Bill Self. He has the talent to do it but to exact a plan that gets Andrew Wiggins just six shots and four points is impressive. It was the second fewest shot attempts he’d take on the season. Sunday was not coming up Wiggins though I watched some of the weirdest basketball transpire in that game. There was a sequence where it seemed Stanford committed four straight turnovers and gave up three offensive rebounds in the process of trying to break KU’s press. Kansas came out of that sequence with no points and Stanford managed an Anthony Brown breakaway layup plus harm. Johnny Dawkins did well but Kansas was not meant to win that game. Also, I can’t tell if I love or hate the fact that Robbie Lemons – a walk-on with the 2010 class of Powell, Huestis, etc. – gets crunch time tick. I suppose it’s growing on me because it’s March and my emotions are heightened and so I’m really hooked on this idea of the underdog. Besides, there’s so much fun to be had with his last name. Because when life hands you lemons, you beat Kansas and go to the Sweet Sixteen.

#7 Oregon Ducks

Close only counts in horse shoes, hand grenades, and meeting Jennifer Lawrence, but man was that one close. The Ducks looked the better team for much of that game and delivered blows, absorbed blows, and came up just short. Joseph Young was terrific and it was a treat to watch Jason Calliste and Mike Moser – the traveled and hungry seniors – refuse to let their careers end. It unfortunately came down to another senior exacting his own will to not retire, Ben Brust. We already talked about learning about what’s underneath the jersey – guts and heart – and these Ducks were all of that across the season’s final month-and-change. That was one helluva run.

#8 Colorado Buffaloes

I mean…tough. We knew it was a mis-match and that things really weren’t stacking up in Colorado’s favor. But that was rough. Pittsburgh did and got whatever they wanted, the Buffs seemingly took it, and went back to Boulder in lopsided fashion. I ultimately think it’s a great learning experience for the program. I thought CU was given something of a favorable seed for their accomplishments over the past few years. A perhaps earned honor but one that could bite them in the ass. And it did. But like I said, learning experience. The tournament is never given to you. No matter whether you’re playing a sixteen or a one, sixty-eight teams are here to compete. If you’re not ready, that can happen to you. There is plenty of good hoop ahead for this Colorado program, the Pitt game was not a set back, but a warning flare that this is some very real stuff.

#10 Arizona State Sun Devils

You all know how I pretty much don’t like this school. I’m from Tucson and grew up understanding that we hate the Sun Devils. But this? I can probably joke about it in a few months – maybe years – but can’t right now. This image is every reason why we love this tournament. No, not because it’s ASU losing, but because the thousand words this picture tells us is the thousands of hours that went into even getting into that moment. To have your career leading shot blocker have one more opportunity to dismiss a game winner; to furiously come back from down a dozen. All of these opportunities for shining moments. And sometimes it doesn’t shine.ASU-bench-reaction-to-loss-to-Texas-720x375

tony parker

A Review & A Preview: Expect the Unexpected

The combined score differential yesterday was 75 and no one saw that coming. Noting such would suggest that it wasn’t a great day. Ben told me he felt gypped. Free throws aside, Utah didn’t score for 692 seconds. Oregon missed all of the threes and the Pac-12′s defensive player of the year? Good job and good effort. Stanford posted the highest offensive efficiency against the Sun Devils of anyone this season. You can also read that as ASU’s worst defensive effort.

Point being, yesterday was March. We asked for the unexpected and we got it. Utah had lost 10 games prior to Thursday by a combined 41 points. Then lost by 32. Oregon and UCLA had previous battled to the tune of even double overtime and last second Wear. Wasn’t Thursday’s case. Oregon had been shooting 47% from three in their previous nine games. Shot 30% last night. ASU’s defense.

And with that context, our worst game was Cal-Colorado (not our worst game). These two played almost the identical game as they did on Saturday, so much so that Colorado scored the exact same number of points in regulation (59). Cal couldn’t quite get there so, naturally, they lost. Justin Cobbs had two chances at Cobbsicles but missed. I hate watching seniors lose.

So we asked for the unexpected and we got it. We asked for the dramatic and the final shots and we got it. Pretty nice little Thursday.

PREVIEWS!

There are two games before it comes to fruition and I’m a big fan of this:

But there are two games. Arizona will attempt to achieve the double trifecta – defeating a team three times in one season – which I cannot confirm as a first or not. However you slice it, the assumption is that it’s difficult but then Arizona beat Utah by 32. I suppose there’s a precedence both ways. However you slice it, Colorado has won three of four (all wins coming by a score of 59-56, odd) and is playing about as Colorado as it gets: effective and opportunistic offensively (transition, Josh Scott, and hot shooting), solid defensively (0.91 ppp allowed in Vegas). But solid and effective aren’t enough to beat what appears to be the most focused Arizona has been all season. Utah looked the Wildcats in the eyes and Medusa turned them to stone. Colorado tried that once, too. Didn’t work out too well (-27 at home).

The evening slate pits Stanford and UCLA. They split the season series, holding home court in both instances. We could rattle off more speak of Stanford’s seniors or UCLA’s transition game, but these are topics we’ve exhausted. What we need to note here is that the games they split, were both rather lopsided. In Westwood, the Bruins won by 17. In Palo Alto, the Cardinal won by 9. Now margin of victory doesn’t always tell us much but – as we noted at the top of this page – it may be fair to expect something lopsided. If these two have played two games that they each ran away with, who’s to say we won’t see a tight one tonight? I’m not opposed. KenPom predicts it at as a 76-75 game, Bruins edge. Tony Parker went off in blowing out the Cardinal. Can he do that again? Stanford shot 62% to beat the Bruins. Can they do that again?

I predict more of exactly what we want: college basketball in March.

Coach Sean Miller

Session 3 Preview: Wildcats, Utes, Bears, Buffs

Moving forward, we shall call three-pointers made in the final minute Dakari Ices. Fading jumpers at the horn are still – and always will be – Cobbsicles. Back to the action. Because the real action begins today. I mean no offense to the games played already, they’ve been great. There has been a lead change in the second half of each and the first session was as March as it gets. Byron Wesley had a fair look at his own version of a frozen treat. It rimmed out.

But the real drama – games with Big Dance implications – begin today. We’re about to run through the lineup – some previews – but just take inventory for yourself. What are you doing for lunch? How can you find the Pac-12 Networks? Have you called Doug at Hooters San Bruno and heard him lament his DirecTV? I have. Today is the kind of four game slate that had me polling the g-chat brain trust whether naming my price on round trip airfare and bailing on two days of work like an obsessed super fan was rational. It’s not. So I’ll preview and stream, head to John’s – local deli with P12N – for lunch. Like an adult. I hate it.

Arizona vs. Utah – Noon PST
The Trifecta Game

Arizona swept the Utes this season which means about as much as a Frank Underwood hand written letter. Completing such a trifecta is rare and difficult [insert the number of times it's happened because mining three seasons of conference data isn't in the cards tonight]. UCLA managed to pull the trifecta on Arizona last year; and it cost their coach his job! So clearly the stakes are high.

But diving into the match ups, Utah is a terrible match up for the Wildcats. They have the size to force Arizona into two things they don’t like to do: shoot and not rebound. Apologies for the double negative and now let’s address the former. In Tucson, the Cats walked away with what looked like a relatively cozy win – 65 to 56 – but Arizona shot a sub-par 40%. The Utes forced more than 80% of the Wildcat offense away from the rim. Comparatively, Arizona usually takes 31% of their shots there. Utah forced the Wildcats to shoot and they missed. But they also rebounded, offensively (pun intended). In that game, Arizona grabbed 50% of the available offensive rebounds and subsequently turned those efforts into a win. Utah managed to flip the script in SLC, limiting the Wildcats to a minuscule 31% OR% (compared to their normal 38%). That game saw the Wildcats take 25% of their shots at the rim (better) and shoot the ball better (42% from distance).

ArizonaUtah

But ultimately, that game came down to two teams matching wills, a game the Utes had all but locked up. Until they didn’t. Should this game follow the aforementioned suit, TJ McConnell – for all of his facilitating glory – will need to hit some shots. Notice all that red space on the right pie? McConnell leads the team in FG% on 2-point jumpers. Utah is daring him to beat them. It’s obvious that All-American Nick Johnson (I like saying that) will need score, too. But the X-factor (and it was the case in Salt Lake and the guy we’ve kept an eye on all season) is Gabe York. The sharp shooter took his spot for the first time post-Ashley against Utah and promptly scored 15 points. Arizona would need every one of them to win in overtime and they’ll need every one of them again to advance.

To fulfill the Utah narrative, what would a win here mean? In short: lots. Larry Krystkowiak said his team would win this tournament. He has a terrific back court (everyone’s favorite and the most critical in March) and that aforementioned front line that has the ability to limit what Arizona does, offensively. Utah came out of the gates like a sorority girl out of a breakup: destroying cupcakes. They led us to believe, in pounding the second worst non-conference SOS in the nation, that their offense was their strong suit. They were scoring more than 80 points per game and lead the nation in 2pt FG% (I see you, Delon). But enter conference play and we saw the Utes’ true colors: the under-talented-but-hard-playing team Larry K told us they’d be in November. They’re the third best defense in the Pac-12 and the 29th best in the nation. How do they do it? To be honest, nothing particularly stands out about them. Statistically speaking that is. But they seem to do everything pretty damn well which, in my estimation, further fulfills the playing hard narrative K kicked all of this off with.

But do we really need to be discussing this much defense? Maybe the question is not so much can the Utes stop the Wildcats but rather outscore them? Probably not considering they’re the top defense in the land. But let’s just say this thing remains a scoreless battle (average 0.94 points per possession which is about equal to the offensive output of 7-23 Rice University). Where does Utah stand a chance in scoring? Delon Wright gets to the rim – in case I’d never mentioned it - but Arizona protects that space as well as anyone. Raising the topic Tony Jones and I discussed on the Twitter: spot up shooting. It’s a nice thing to have (Arizona doesn’t really) and a great thing to have with a creator like Wright. Brandon Taylor has filled that role effectively (40% on threes) but if he’s the only shooting threat on the floor (Loveridge 30%, Wright 25%) then it’s not terribly effective. But Dakari Tucker (Dakari Ice) can stroke it (38%). He doesn’t get the most tick (50.4% minutes) but he poses a threat perhaps otherwise unknown from Utah. And you saw Jason Calliste shoot Arizona out of Eugene coming off the bench. And you saw Dakari Ice do it to Washington yesterday. There’s a precedence for making hitting threes to beating Arizona. Is Tucker the answer? And because we discussed 2-point jumpers so much already, it’s worth noting that Arizona forces the highest percentage of 2-point jumpers in the country (51.7%) and Utah doesn’t want to take that shot. They rank 204th in percentage of 2-point jumpers taken and 133rd in FG% from there. Utes offense comes at the rim. Like their defense, they don’t overwhelm in one area of their offense, but when they do get to the basket, they’re making it – fifth nationally in FG% at the rim. Arizona, on the other hand, protects the rim as well as any team in the conference country.

Look, I tried to paint a positive picture of offense but it just might not be there. Does Utah have the size (again) and the shooting (first time for everything) to avoid the trifecta? Could we see some Swoop magic as Jordan Loveridge and Dakari Ice get hot from deep? Trifecta averted?

Or will Arizona just go on being the tournament’s odds on favorite?

Colorado vs Cal – 2:30pm PST
The Golden Goal Game

Let’s get this out of the way early because I’m not the type to live in conjecture or bracketology. This game is for Cal’s NCAA tournament-lives. They lose this game and they don’t deserve to be in the tournament, resume be damned. By no means is losing to Colorado a blemish but they’re just 7-8 since late January and you can only cling to beating Arizona for so long. This game ultimately embodies all of the drama of March considering these two couldn’t have played each other any closer than they did last week. Look at this roller coaster:Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 11.06.21 PM

This was played into free basketball with fourth place or eighth place on the line for the Bears. Playing Colorado with significant ramifications is nothing new to Cal. But the same can be said for Colorado facing Cal. In 2011 – when all of the #RollTad got rolling in Boulder – Colorado defeated Cal twice in the course of two weeks en route to winning the inaugural Pac-12 tournament. Is it time for Cal to return the must-win favor? Or will this confidence shine through:

The Buffs – confident as it were – are pretty comfortably in the NCAA tournament. I’m not entirely sure what that means for them beyond the fact that they just played about even with the worst team in the Pac-12. But if we’ve learned anything about the Buffs, it’s a propensity to play to their opponent. We can take a Vegas theme to this and note that they’re 17-14 against the spread. Certainly they’re above .500 but not by much. They play right about to expectations. Nothing wrong with that so long as the left column is the one you’re filling up. Of course, per KenPom, Colorado is expected to win this game by just one point suggesting we’re in for a good one.

But not worthy here is the seniority factor. This, above all of our other four previews, is the one I lean the least on for statistical analysis. Neither team is easy to figure out and each has plenty going for and against them. Which leads me to Cobbs and Solomon. They’re the only contributing seniors on the floor in this game. The only affecters to be potentially playing their final game. That means something in March. It means something that Cobbs has scored 19 or more points in four of Cal’s last five wins including 21 points and 4 assists (0 TO) in beating Colorado last week. Richard Solomon added a double-double in that must-win for the bears. And once again these seniors are faced with a must win. Pay attention.

wane

WANE: Eugene Wins, Las Vegas Gets Spencer

Ben Carter dismissed a Nick Johnson shot and then Washington State beat the hell out of UCLA and now Vegas. Those were the waning moments of Pac-12 regular season basketball and we had Matt from Addicted to Quack on WANE to discuss that Oregon game and everything forthcoming in Las Vegas.

Give it a listen, we go deep:

 

The Table:

0:00 – Matt’s work all over that intro

0:40 - Spencer admits that Eugene is different when you’re not an undergrad, but no-less fantastic.

1:38 - Really strange moment where everyone admits they’re not really sure what’s going on with regards to recording and logistics. You learn a little about how we make this happen.

2:20 - Things get existential

3:26 - We are going to handle this podcast by asking questions and then we note that Utah vs. Washington is an awesome way to kick this thing off.

4:33 - Tangent on Washington State and Spencer admits he was a little butt hurt to see the Wildcats lose in Eugene then poses a great argument for said WSU upset of UCLA.

7:40 - WHO IS THE MOST DANGEROUS TEAM – OUTSIDE OF SAY….ARIZONA – IN THE PAC-12 TOURNAMENT?

18:57 - WHICH TEAM HAS THE MOST TO GAIN?

24:24 - DOES ARIZONA STAND TO HAVE THE MOST TO GAIN…A NUMBER ONE SEED?

29:41 - WHO IS THE PLAYER TO WATCH?

38:14 - Money, sent to me in a won bet with my father, arrives.

39:37 - THIS IS HOW YOU DEFINE STANFORD. BRAVO, MATT!

41:42 – After diving into the number of ridiculous guards in this conference, how’s about the big kids?

47:10 - Adam with a major buzzkill on his stance on conference tournaments

48:02 - WHAT IS THE BEST POTENTIAL MATCHUP IN THE PAC-12 TOURNAMENT?

57:26 - Spencer, the only of us going to Vegas, with the last word

Nick Johnson POY

Pac-12 Conference Awards: Traditional Ones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-Conference:

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

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

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

Week 10 Pac-12 Hoops Review

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

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

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

Tough. Sometimes the narratives write themselves.

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

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

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