We knew the games were going to be good. It’s championship time and this was the semifinals. But that? Stanley’s three. Kevon’s three. Both Brandon’s games. Norman’s night. Delon and then Joseph. Let’s have a championship.
Day 3: Continue reading
We know Delon Wright is really good and that he’s uniquely gifted at getting to the rim. Last year it was at insane levels as 62% of his offense was a layup or dunk attempt which he made 71% of the time. He exploded onto the scene and to the rim and we took notice.
Presumably, 2015 wasn’t going to surprise us. Last year he was a JuCo transfer, the kid brother of Dorrel. He could sneak up on you. Continue reading
College basketball lost Dean Smith this weekend. You’re probably familiar with his basketball achievements and they’re markedly impressive: 879 wins, 2 NCAA titles, 11 final fours, 17 ACC championships, 4 time coach of the year. Dean Smith was a basketball genius. But he’ll be missed because he was cherished as a great man. Familiarize yourself with his precious memories and know that it was all true.
12) WASHINGTON STATE
Tonight’s main event? #8 Wichita State at #25 Utah, the first top-25 game in SLC since 1999. Which naturally means the Pac-12 has an unknown opponent for us to learn about. And who else would we ask to scout the Shockers than…me! Yup, couldn’t track down a Shoxpert so the preeminent Pac-12 blogger will be a momentary Valley critic. Arch Madness. Tip is at 8pm PST, 9pm MST.
So if I were a Wichita State basketball fan and was asked to answer questions about my favorite team – the Shockers, of course – this is how I’d presumably respond. Considering I once dated a girl – now married to someone else – from Kansas, I think this qualifies me. I also once went to Allen Fieldhouse and a friend of mine spent Thanksgiving in Kansas. I kinda have a Judy Garland crush. I could go on.
Nevertheless, those Shockers are headed to the Huntsman Center for a top-25 showdown. Here’s what you need to know about a less familiar WSU, from me, by me: Continue reading
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).
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:
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:
Confident Askia is confident. On how to beat Cal: I think we need more plays like I had tonight, those winning plays.
— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) March 13, 2014
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.
This was no easy task. Back courts across the Pac-12 are loaded this season and a major reason why the Pac is Back. Thus, not coincidentally, this list most closely resembles how I think the conference will shake out. There are big guards and small guards and quick guards and shooters. Veterans and pups. I’d pit this group against any in the country. Alas, they’re just going to pick on each other like Miami Dolphins.
- Oregon – Sure the Ducks just lost Dominic Artis to entrepreneurship, but they replace him with the 2013 Pac-12 Tournament MVP. Oregon has guard depth as deep as this guy is drunk. Joseph Young (18ppg), Damyean Dotson (11ppg), Jason Calliste (11ppg), Johnathan Loyd (5ppg), Dominic Artis (9ppg). [somewhere Mike Moser smiles].
- Arizona – You can try and tell me that TJ McConnell hasn’t played at the highest level but I’m not about to knock him for that. I’ve watched mid-major talent the last four years in the Pac-12. I know what good looks like when I see it. He’s joined by the ever improving Nick Johnson with Jordin Mayes backing each of them up. I like these pieces.
- Colorado – Came very close to being second on this list. While Dinwiddie vs. McConnell is not a draw (Mayor wins out), Askia Booker’s propensity to shoot and to pull up and to fire as compared to everything Nick Johnson does….well I’m giving the collective nod to the Cats. But man, Spencer Dinwiddie is good.
- ASU – This might be too low of a ranking for the Devils. Carson is one of the nation’s best and the addition of Jermaine Marshall is an upgrade over the departed Evan Gordon. Did I mention Jahii Carson is good?
- California – Aside from Loyd (who will be filling in for Artis) Cobbs is the first senior to make this list (and I’m not counting Marshall, either). He’s joined by Jabari Bird, a McDonald’s AA who isn’t getting near the love he might deserve because of Commissioner (Aaron) Gordon. But the wildcard here is Ty Wallace who I think could have a monster year for the Bears.
- Washington – I’ve heard mixed reviews on Nigel Williams-Goss and that’s OK. Another burger All-American, he’s an incoming freshman so there’s going to be equal parts question marks and hype. I get it. But CJ Wilcox. CJ Wilcox. CJ Wilcox. Perhaps the best shooter in the conference is now a senior and very well could have the dynamic, distributing PG to get him even more touches in ideal spots. The rules changes should also help to get him even more open looks. BOMBS AWAY. (Andrew Andrews mention)
- UCLA – Their point guard is 6’9″ and goes by the name of slow-mo. That would seem inauspicious but Kyle Anderson is one unique talent. The Bruins are going to miss LD2 but Anderson’s play making and size will make UCLA a tough out. Oh, and that Jordan Adams kid is my favorite.
- Stanford – Last year I was very high on the prospects of Chasson Randle who I loved watching slash into the lane and get buckets. He could shoot it, too. His trajectory plateaued last season and he hit a cold streak from the field (44% from 3FG to 36%). This came inopportunely at the same time as Aaron Bright’s cold spell (44% from 3FG to 32%). So what’s the norm, I ask?
- Oregon State – Roberto Nelson is a fine player who can score with anyone in this conference. It appears, however, that he’s a one man show with Ahmad Starks (who was really high on him anyways?) departed. Challe Barton will get a crack at PG duties and there’s one more thing I want to mention: Malcolm Duvivier. Why you might ask? Because he’s definitively not Andrew Wiggins. But he is a Canadian prep star who reclassified from 2014 to 2013 to play American College Basketball. Ya hoser.
- Washington State – I’m a sucker for veterans – perhaps above talent? No – and the Cougars, for whatever their season will become, feature DaVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge. These two are nice players for Ken Bone, adding to the guard depth of the conference more than wins for WSU.
- USC – JT Terrell should benefit greatly from Dunk City as he’s an athletic guard who wants to get up and down the floor. Or at least get his shots up. Additionally Pe’Shon Howard is a nice pickup for ball handling duties as Enfield’s offense has a tendency for turnovers.
- Utah – I’m relatively high on Brandon Taylor. I liked his work down the stretch for the Utes but he’s a sophomore guard with little experience leading a team full of even less experience. His learning curve is steep and I wish him luck swimming in the deep end.
For awhile now I’ve been stuck on this quote from Larry Krystkowiak at media day. The 6’9″ catcher of bike thieves had this to say about his program:
I think, that playing hard is a talent.
And I don’t think he’s wrong. I really don’t. But my goodness is this the most little brother thing imaginable? I can wrap my mind around the fact that you’ve been overhauling a roster for three consecutive seasons and started with a squad capable of being one of the worst high major, D1 teams of all-time (finished 6-25). I don’t love this quote because I feel it’s a consolation; an admission that everyone is going to be better than you before anyone steps on the floor. We’re going to play harder because it’s our only shot. It’s commonplace that high motors win ball games, and so starting each game under the guise that you can only win if you play hard feels short sighted. Defeatist. But before I get too far in to one quote, allow me…
Why I love them: Jordan Loveridge. I’ve said it in a previous post that one man does not a team make but one man can redefine a program. While those statements contradict one another, Loveridge is a talented ball player; and not just because he plays hard. He’s a big body with the ability to stretch the floor and he can cause fits. Particularly with the emergence of fellow sophomore Brandon Taylor. A season ago, Taylor took his sweet time in finding the floor and perhaps letting his talents flourish. But as the season wore on, he garnered more tick and didn’t let K down – averaging 11/1/2 in the season’s final five games as the Utes closed 4-1 with a win over #19 Oregon (in which Taylor dropped 14 points). What I’m getting at is he peaked as the Utes were peaking and I like these sort of coincidences. I like maturing freshmen heading into their sophomore seasons. I like Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge. I’m beginning to like Utah’s actual talent.
Why I hate them: Once again Larry K is bringing in a fresh new crop of Runnin’ Utes. This year it’s seven noobs which means we have to call the aforementioned Loveridge and Taylor “veterans.” Laughable, no? Such is reality inside the Huntsman Center and it’s reason enough not to love this team. Continuity will go a long way in restoring what this program will become and that begins with Loveridge and Taylor.
Stat you need to know:
Percentage of returning minutes played. That’s the fewest in the Pac-12. The question, however, becomes whether or not that’s good or bad news. The perspective of the former would suggest that one wouldn’t want to return too much from a 15-18 team that finished 10th in the conference. Not returning much is another clean slate. The contrary opinion is such that 15-18 was an improvement. Losing 60% of the minutes that contributed to the Utes’ best season since 2009 is detrimental to the continued, year-over-year progress K has been making. What do you think?
“Larry Krystkowiak would back everyone down and you wouldn’t be able to keep him from scoring in the paint. Not that he couldn’t shoot. But that’s what he would do. Then he definitely would foul you every time you had the ball. So he would be tough.” – Lorenzo Romar on which Pac-12 coach wins in a 1-on-1 tournament
Outlook: It’s an improving one. The Runnin’ Utes aren’t soon to compete for a Pac-12 title or even a first round bye in the Pac-12 tournament (top-4 finish); but they’re going to be better once again and we can start to take them more seriously. Their schedule is starting to look less MWC and more Pac-12. Only St. Katherine College is a glaring blemish of childishness this season. Of note: The StK Firebirds will be taking on my Alma Mater, the UCSD Tritons, on 11/27. Larry K is building a good thing in Salt Lake but he’s taking his sweet time. That’s probably the right thing to do but with that comes with further growing pains and 2013-14 won’t soon be any different. But it will be better and they’re going to win a handful of those games you thought they had no business competing in. Because, you know, playing hard takes talent.