I got credentialed to last year’s Pac-12 tournament. It was awesome and in that wonderful first day of basketball, USC knocked off the fifth seeded Sun Devils. It was USC’s sixth win over a conference opponent in two years and it came at the hands of my behated (word?) Devils. I don’t know if you “have” schadenfreude or wish it or feel it but knowing what the German word translates to, that’s what I have/feel/wish for ASU. Until I had to go into that presser and listen to sixth-year senior Shaq McKissic talk about the game. To listen to Bo Barnes explain how the shittiest team in the Pac-12 could erase a 14-point lead in the game’s final ten minutes was miserable. All the ill I’d have ever wished on the Sun Devils was manifesting but the moment’s cruel reality was that I had to see what my schadenfreude created. I wanted nothing to do with it. It looked awful. They answered their questions with red eyes, barely audible, then left the stage. I felt for them. It wasn’t the stakes of the Super Bowl but those red eyes suggested otherwise. Josh Norman. Cam didn’t answer a few questions. I’m pretty much OK with it.
Someone out there with more intimate knowledge and feelings for football can perhaps wax about last night’s sports. It was pure sports. We asked for a championship and we got a championship. Legends were cemented. Hyperbole can be tossed around with the Brady name like a goal-line play call. Sports. And in the interest of brevity – with plenty of moments in our week of Pac-12 hoops from Askia’s 43 to Singer’s step back – I’m drawn to this old clip from Don Cheadle.
The Pac is avoiding afternoon broadcasting this Sunday. Fortunately, conference games that day feature the two worst teams in the Pac (USC and Cal). I suppose I’ve tipped my hand surrounding this week’s Game(s) to Avoid, but maybe you’ll be at a house of favorable fandom. Which really just proposes that you’re at a house choosing to optimize the magnitude of the day’s events with the requisite accompaniments of next-level junk food. Like I want to hear about food consumption that has you in a funk so Monday that you think ‘Ernie Kent for the rebuild’ is a great idea. Of course that puts all eyes on Husky fans (no pun intended) who will have dual watching privileges (Cal @ UW 12pm + Super Bowl). So if the Pac-12 is going to try and avoid competing with the Super Bowl, we can oblige! And while it seems that everyone hates both the Seahawks and the Patriots, both produce two very lovable characters. And Tom Brady is awesome.
Game of the Week
A lot of things to keep an eye on this week particularly on Wednesday. Five of the conference’s top six teams will be in action that night including our GotW: Stanford @ Washington. This game features our two leading amoeba candidates with identical 14-5 overall records. Washington hasn’t had quite the conference success of the Cardinal and now will be short their tallest asset: Robert Upshaw. Nevertheless, #TakingCareOfBusiness at home has been a major part of Pac-12 basketball. They have the second highest conference home winning percentage. This bodes well for Washington. The Upshaw story bodes well for the Cardinal.
And while it’s not a game, The Drive, debuts tonight at 9pm PST on The Networks. Expect reviews of that.
Game to Avoid
The aforementioned Sunday slate may be unavoidable. If I’m parked with a booming game day bucket, Taco Bell, ‘za, wings, cheap beer, expensive beer, mid-priced red (someone’s inevitably going to invite this friend), a Chinese spread, why-not-Thai, an assortment of Hostess products, fuggit-a-pie, ice cream, and Tums® then I won’t be opposed to watching Pac-12 basketball, too. Maybe let’s make a handful of prop bets for the weekend? Let me know if you want in on this action:
Herb Sendek gets extended: 3-1
Spencer Dinwiddie given 6 week D-League assignment in Boulder: 4-1
Robert Upshaw transfers to Oregon: 6-1
Robert Upshaw transfers from Oregon: 6-1
Bryce Alford plays 41 minutes in regulation: 9-1
BruinsNation writes something nice about it: OFF
Jordan Adams admits he touched the ball: 18-1
Larry Scott admits Jordan Adams touched the ball: 5000-1
Something to Prove
They’re paying the team they knocked off a return visit and I can’t imagine the McKale Center is going to be all too kind to the Oregon State Beavers. You have to appreciate that Wayne Tinkle has said that this season won’t be the “year we beat Arizona.” Beating one team does not a season make. Since breaking down in his news conference after beating then #4 Wisconsin, Eddie Jordan’s Rutgers Scarlet Knights are 0-4. They’d just won their championship. Conversely, Tinkle and his Beavers are 3-1 with their eyes on bigger things. Yes, winning in Tucson and sweeping the Wildcats is a tall order. But beating ASU on the road is far more reasonable, conceivable, and immediate accomplishment.
Something to Lose
Washington evidently had someone to lose and it’s in a big way. We won’t dwell on that even though last week we thought Colorado had their season to lose while playing short some critical talents. Turns out, just giving a good effort is enough to earn some PacHoops love. Good job, Buffs! Washington still isn’t our team with the most riding on the line this week. I think that distinction belongs withthe Stanford Cardinal. They’ve navigated the circle of suck, as Spencer noted, to a 5-2 conference record. They’ve won at Texas and held court against Connecticut. But they now take all that on the road where Dawkins’ teams are 31-50 All-Time. Woof. At this point, however, the Cardinal are playing the role of expected victor not enigmatic maybe. Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown are granite not sandstone. Is this the year Stanford rides that soundly into the NCAA tournament? It seems that way today, a road trip to Washington could alarm us otherwise.
I may not have had much of a dog in that Super Bowl fight but I do live in San Francisco and some of my closest friends are die hards. So when that ball dropped just outside the fingertips of Michael Crabtree I was struck with a very surprising sorrow. I wanted him to secure that touchdown and for the San Francisco to erupt. I wanted to see my friends celebrate with unbridled joy amongst the other strangers in the bars and the streets and the interwebs. But that was not to be the case and I was overwhelmed with the understanding of just how complex a season is. How it begins – when exactly is dependent upon your competitive ball of choice – with promise and excitement. The hours upon hours of work and preparation, sacrifice and all of the other words that we toss around to indicate the lengths a person or collection thereof will go to achieve their goal. And in this world of sport that goal is to win your last game, a championship for a ring or a banner or a cup that will forever let the masses know that you, for one season or tournament were the best. And when it comes to that moment, the final match to seal yourself that champion, to lose is nothing short of devastation. Gone. All out the window. So incredibly close yet painfully, sorrowfully, far.
We’re marching ever closer to those moments and while they hurt and conjure inexplicable feelings in us because we literally had no effect on that game’s outcome, it’s the beauty of fandom. Because when the ball does bounce in your favor, if Crabtree does make that catch or when Isaiah hits that stepback or Derrick makes that block, it’s all so suddenly validated and right.
It was good weekend.
Leader in the Clubhouse: The Arizona Wildcats jump back into the top spot and while they don’t necessarily hold a tiebreaker against fellow first placers Oregon, they didn’t get swept by the Bay schools. They did, however, grind out a couple of wins in Washington which is never an easy place to sweep. It was in fact Sean Miller’s first ever sweep up there and as we head towards the midway point, the Wildcats are positioning themselves for a successful home stretch.
GotW: I usually reserve this spot for the best game, competitively speaking, of the week. To that effect I give a shout out to USC-UCLA, Washington-Arizona, Washington-ASU, and Cal-Oregon. But I’m going to award this to Stanford and their performance Wednesday night. Sure I’m biased as I was there, but what they did offensively and defensively to Oregon was very impressive. Truly one of the best collective efforts I’ve seen this year and while I get that it was unsustainably good, they showed their ceiling and it’s a high one. Josh Huestis is a beast and a defensive nightmare and holy smokes is Aaron Bright quick.
Biggest Loser: Quarter by quarter, who are the Colorado Buffaloes? Through discussions with trusted Buffs they’re capable of everything from a Sweet 16 run (agree) to a swift NIT exit (still agreeing). This weekend they proved themselves the latter and that’s tremendously perplexing after the performance they put on in Utah. Or should I say the lack of performance and a further alarming fact considering Tad Boyles’ teams’ history on the road now. As Pac-12ers they’ve performed to the tune of 6-13 on the road (conference and non-conference). This isn’t very good and for a program that seemed poised to turn the corner, they really cannot afford to be doing things like lose to the Utah’s of the conference. There’s still time left and this is really the only major blemish on their resume (only non-top-100 loss). Interested to see if this game pisses them off or defeats them.
What We Learned: Oregon needs Dominic Artis. He’s not the sole proprietor of their success prior to his injury but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Ducks need their freshman point guard. In his absence they’ve turned the ball over 65 times. That’s an entire game’s worth of possessions they’ve handed away across the last three contests sans the little guy from Oakland. It’s been unclear just how long he’ll miss but I do imagine they’d love to get him back for this week’s hosting of Colorado. I asked the same about Colorado – whether they’re pissed or defeated following their tough loss – and I’m curious the same of these Ducks. My guess is that even without Artis this veteran group is reeling over getting swept and not all too pleased about it. My hope is that we have two teams that are really upset with their most recent performances and we’re treated to delight of a Thursday nighter.
Evidently this has become the week of PEDs, from ARod’s Miami issues to Ray Lewis accusations, it’s been a major topic which I’m willing to say is better than a week of fake girlfriends; and a far more lucrative sham. Seriously though, my stance on the roids debate is: You’re either good at baseball or you’re not (and that they probably should lock up enlarging the humans of the NFL). If they gave us more names than just ARod or Melky we’d have never heard of any of them. Cesar Carrillo, are you serious? Who is that? I’m not brushing it aside but the baseball writer’s need to get over themselves and accept that whatever these “cheaters” were doing made them oodles of cash and let them get their Americana hyperbole on during any and all of their feats. It’s one big hairy mess that was propagated by all. The vehement denials can stop though.
And it would seem that PEDs couldn’t even help some of these Pac-12 teams. I suppose HGH for recovery purposes might do the trick as it seems more and more teams are weeding out the non-contributors (or sustaining injuries) en route to six man rotations. I mean, UCLA-ASU last week featured ten players getting 30+ minutes on the floor. Holy ice baths!
Now consider this SAT prep analogy: PEDS:Controversy::Shabazz:??. Well, the answer here would be controversy again. While the Bruin has never been accused of roids (that’d be weird and arguably unprecedented in collegiate hoop) his adherence to the rules has often been questioned. Each time his amateurism or eligibility has come in to question, he’s somehow become ill? While the NCAA deliberated clearing him to play in October/November, Shabazz sustained a shoulder injury. As UCLA currently investigates his flashy backpack, he’s listed as day-to-day with “stomach illness?” Whatever. The Bruins are going to be in some awesome unis tonight and that’s a better story. (see image above)
Note that I may be tardy on some work next week, the Harbowl is going to consume my San Francisco Sunday.
Game of the Week: So this is one of those weeks where you hope all those people who are all, “Oh, nanner nanner nanner the Pac-12 sucks, losers, bad,” aren’t paying attention because while I know and you know that there are some very competitive teams going at it, this weekender pales in comparison to the likes of many other conferences this weekend. I mean, Oregon @ Stanford just doesn’t sound all that marquee. And maybe I’m blinded by the fact that the B1G is featuring 1v3 this weekend. Whatever the case, I really think the Arizona State-Washington game on Saturday is the GotW. ASU is and will be on a constant battle to prove themselves and Washington is a tough team to put a finger on. But they’ll be at home with a favored opportunity to beat an opponent of equal to greater value. That’s to say: pretty good amount on the line here.
Game to Avoid: Are you kidding me? Oregon State is playing at Stanford at noon on Super Bowl Sunday? What Bay Area local is going to attend this game, honestly? The Niners are a handful of years away from playing all-but-in Palo Alto and then there’s the whole Harbaugh aspect. No one has any interest in this game, it’ll be a miracle if they draw 300 people.
Something to Prove: What team is Cal going to be? They’re back at the friendly confines and have really been quiet in Pac-12 play. They’ve essentially taken care of business. Slowly but surely – if that phrase even applies – they’ve settled into a bout of gross mediocrity. This is not good. They play host this weekend to the Ducks and get Brandon Smith back. Is that going to be enough? As thin as they’ve been the extra body should help. Look, Mike Montgomery is a terrific coach which is why I’d expect this group to compete a touch harder than they have. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and guess that Monty revitalizes this crew, awakening them to some semblance of their potential. They may not beat the Ducks but they shouldn’t give a disinterested vibe.
Something toLose: I’m not entirely sure the Washington Huskies have all that much to lose. Regardless they still stake claim to those three road victories and an increasingly impressive win over Colorado. Now, however, they’ve lost three straight to far inferior competition plus Oregon and are in jeoprady of five straight. The Arizona schools are proving the toughest trip to make/host and Washington could come out of Super Bowl weekend a painful 4-5; which is to say the Huskies stand to lose their season here, or maybe drive the nail in as. Their early conference heroics may have revitalized some hope but the scenario I’ve laid out here could be devastating to a team who’s testicular fortitude has been questioned.
Shake off your food, or otherwise, hangover, get your mind around the fact that this guy is an All-Time great, and don’t kick anyone that comes into your cube at “top-speed.” Now that I’ve talked you into embracing your Monday, realize that Selection Sunday (three teams) is just 34 days away.
The weekend that was:
Leader in the Clubhouse: If I’m not mistaken, for the first time this season there is one team atop the Pac rankings: the Washington Huskies. They beat UCLA thanks in large part to Josh Smith’s lack of conditioning (plus a zone defense) and handled USC. Beating UCLA was huge for them. It may have been sloppy but wins trump aesthetics as the season is quickly wrapping up. Here’s some fun stats I came across on the twitter-sphere courtesy my buddies over at Montlake Madness: excluding the USC game (which should be exempt from most any statistical reporting), during UW’s four-game win streak into first place, Terrence Ross is scoring 18.3 points per second half compared to 3.0 points per first half. In addition, his shooting jumps 46% (19% to 65%) across halves. So while it sometimes feels like he disappears in a games, playing with the bravado of a Ryan Appleby talent as opposed to his own, the numbers don’t lie. Ross scored 10 of UW’s final 12 points over the final five minutes of the UCLA game, leading the Huskies back from a six-point deficit. Lots of people have talked about UW going as Tony Wroten goes, and while TW has played great, I repeat: numbers don’t lie. TRoss is going. The Huskies are rolling. Look out.
Game of the Weekend: Lotta candidates here. From Arizona holding on at Haas to UCLA closing out WSU to the Huskies finishing off the Bruins, there were great games abound. But the GotW was Colorado’s victory over the visiting Ducks. This was a back-and-forth battle that came down to controversy. Here’s the thing: you create your own luck. Nate Tomlinson certainly did, drawing a foul with 0.1 seconds remaining and the score tied, then hitting one of two free throws to seal the win. He was aggressive, made a play, won the game, next! But please do watch the video below and note Tomlinson’s acknowledgment of the official who made the call. Love it. It’s become increasingly apparent that unless you’re in black and gold, you ain’t winning at altitude (more on that later). Beating the Ducks was huge for Colorado. It gives them some breathing room as they head into a treacherous close to their season. They head to the road (2-4 on the road this season) for five of their final seven. It isn’t going to be easy the rest of the way but Colorado is a tough and gritty squad. Also, it’s time to start talking about Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker as conference FOY candidates.
The Big Loser: Oregon State’s been nothing short of disappointing since the opponents became conference foes. Sure, they split the Ski Trip, but they weren’t even competitive in their most important tilt (at CU) on the heels of their big three game win streak. I want to like Craig’s team, hell, they carried the torch of Pac-12 glory through the early season (Texas!) but the proverbial ball has been dropped and the First Seat is heating up. Robinson has now been at OSU for three-plus seasons and their win totals read a little something like this: 18, 14, 10, 13. The axe won’t be flailed this year, losing a coach is too expensive, but things need to brighten in Corvalis soon or we could see the first bit of Pac-12 Network basketball dollars going to use in the PNW.
What We Learned: There was a lot to learn this weekend. We’ll begin with the aforementioned “you can’t win at altitude,” referencing the growing meme. While it’s certainly a fun something for fans, it’s a lot realer than that. Boyle’s Boys are 31-3 at the Coors Event Center since Tad became head coach two years ago and are 7-0 in conference play this season. And this non-phenomenon has nothing to do with Boulder sitting 5430 above the sea and a whole lot to do with their talent, coach, and fan base. The Buffs, however, hit the road for five of their final seven, a stretch in which we’ll learn a lot about CU. Roll Tad. You know what else we learned? Jorge’s a hot head and Joe Pasternack has a bad scowl, but kickgate was non-news. Move on. Onto things like Arizona’s impressive Bay sweep. The ‘Cats handed Cal and Stanford their first conference home losses and looked the better team in doing it. In short order, Miller re-focused his group coming off that emotional home loss to UW and the end of Kevin Parrom’s season. The mercurial Josiah Turner is playing lock down defense and, while he’s not quite there offensively, has a second speed that is going to make ACE a lot of money on ankle wraps. Fun fact: Stanford scored as many points, 43, on Saturday, as former Arizona guard and Bay Area assassin (this and this), Momo Jones, scored individually for Iona Thursday night. One final point of learning: Josh Smith uses the regular season as his conditioning. Last season Smith and the Bruins were able to turn that into an NCAA Tournament bid. Not happening this time around. But check out his steady increase in output as the season progresses. He’s become consistently better as his conditioning improves, shocker right? Why he won’t get into shape prior to the beginning of a season is beyond me and beyond, more importantly and unfortunately, Ben Howland. Look at his 2010-11 output to see the same thing. Will he figure it out? Who knows but it’s too late this season to do anything beyond play spoiler.
Early Week Youtuber: I’ll open by apologizing that I can’t embed this video. This is a wacky ad – just watch it – but confirms that agencies and/or companies are moving away from making sense and selling random. Evidently its worked because I’m sharing with you their content. This video captures the randomness movement and serves as a convenient metaphor for a Terrence Ross game: mellow to bold. Enjoy.