We are halfway through this season and it’s evident that 2015 is a tough season to cover. Basketball is being played at nearly two fewer possessions per game with nearly 6% less scoring per game (learn more here). The Pac-12 – the conference that chose me – is playing at nearly 2012 levels. Sure the top of the conference is better and the talent levels far surpass that which we saw in the fateful Pac-12 inauguration. But at least in 2012 there was a multitude of teams vying for a shot to dance. What crap could rise to the top? You can’t look me in the blog and tell me anyone but Arizona or Utah is going to win in Vegas. It’s seemingly foregone in early February. This is increasingly looking like a two-horse race to Selection Sunday. After that, 2015 has been…a rebuilding? That’s not going to stop us. Because Askia Booker has shots to take and so too does DaVonte Lacy. Kevon Looney is going to be the only freshman in the country to average a double-double. Have you watched Oregon State’s zone against everyone but Arizona State? Watch Elgin Cook pursue a shot, Gary Payton II defend, and Ty Wallace play. These are the last nine games you’ll see of Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, Stefan Nastic, Norman Powell, and Booker. You’ve got plenty of reasons to perhaps quit on this season. But champions never quit. This is the Conference of Champions (plus the page views, comments, tweets and shares make me feel good).
Game of the Week
Thursday night’s affair in Palo Alto. UCLA @ Stanford is a grudge match that previously saw UCLA snap a vicious five-game skid in two overtimes. If you’ll recall, Chasson Randle (who shoots 89% from the line) missed the second of two free-throws at the end of the first overtime. UCLA would win. So while I prefaced this week with doom-and-gloom and turned it to optimism, it’s worth noting that Stanford still has legitimate tournament aspirations. In order to do such they’ll need to be #TakingCareOfBusinessAtHome. Can UCLA be disruptive to that task? I know they have the skills to do it. They’ve proven as much but they’re also just 1-4 on the road this conference season. Maples isn’t exactly the toughest road game, but for UCLA it’s a road game nonetheless.
Game to Avoid
I’m not going anywhere near Thursday’s 8pm tip featuring USC @ Cal. Actually, I said that wrong. I’ll technically be closer to that game than any other game played. It’s in Berkeley. I’m 35-public-transport minutes from Haas. But I also can’t really justify watching these two teams play on my precious time.
Something to Prove
Everyone? I suppose that because there aren’t any rallying cries to get additional teams into the NCAA tournament, the major battle lines are for a Top-4 finish in the conference. Trust me, Wednesday to Saturday in Vegas is way too long. Earning the first round bye is huge. So let’s quick look at what fourth place looks like:
- 8 teams within two games of fourth
- 3 teams currently tied for fourth
- By comparison, 5 teams are tied for second place in the B1G which isn’t great but at least everyone is trying to finish near the top and not settling for the middle
- In the Big-12…wait…Texas is still ranked?
Well that was a fun exercise. In choosing one, I’d like to note the Oregon Ducks. Earlier this week I wrote that the Ducks haven’t really stood out. For better or worse, they’ve just existed. They have a great opportunity to hold court at home against a re-identifying Washington team and what will likely be an emotional Ernie Kent return to Eugene. They’re one of the teams currently in fourth and while five of their final nine are roadies, they’re done with Arizona and host Utah. They’re work’s set out for them, but it could be lining up well.
Something to Lose
I reckon the theme of this week has been that all is lost. That only Arizona and Utah – with Stanford scratching and clawing – are set in the NCAA Tournament. Does that mean the Stanford Cardinal are the team with the most to lose? I think it has to be. They play inferior competition – albeit the GotW – at home and should sweep the weekend. As we know, the Cardinal don’t handle “should” very well (see exhibits Dayton, 2014 S16 & Career, J. Dawkins). A home loss at any point the rest of the way would be crippling to Stanford’s At Large chances as both Texas and UConn are falling apart (combined 4-8 last 12)