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Posted by naterb on October 30, 2009

PAC-10 Basketball Outlook: 2009-2010

Despite the prognostications that the PAc-10 would have down years the past two season, six teams have earned NCAA Tournament bids each season, and have combined for three Sweet-16 finishes and one Final Four appearance.

But thanks to a mass exodus of talent (27 NBA draftees in three seasons), the four season streak of 60% of the conference in the NCAA tournament is in jeopardy, and it appears that the pundits prognostications will prove that the third time truly is a charm.

The biggest reason why the PAC-10 could suffer a down year isbecause of their youth and lack of qaulity veteran players. The PAC-10 lost ten players to the NBA draft in 2009, seven of which were first-round picks. If that’s not bad enough, only two All-PAC -10 players (Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle) return for a 2010 encore. Don’t take a down year for the PAC-10 to mean they won’t be competitive, however – afterall, this isn’t a “down year” in C-USA.

With a large influx of young talent, including four Top-25 recruiting classes (UCLA, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon State) according to both Rivals.com and Scout.com, the PAC-10 as a whole is staving off the rebuilding process.

In the conference, only three teams can be considered to be on the rise though, while four teams have taken a steps back, with the remaining three managing to stay stagnant.

If the player changes aren’t enough to cause some concern for a lull in the overall performance of the conference, the coaching changes should. The conference continues to get its coaching make-over with three new coaches taking the sidelines this year, bringing the total to half the league in the past two seasons.

With all the changes occuring during the off-season, the conference will likely get off to a bumpy start, and fans everywhere will have to withhold judgement until the end of he season when the obstacles of coaching changes, and inexperience will have all been overcome.

The biggest key to be aware of in the conference is what team can get solid frontcourt play. If any team gets surprising dominance in their frontcourt, they could have a fast-track to the top of the conference since there is but a select few quality true big men in the PAC-10.

Coaching Changes

Arizona – It was an unfortunate end to a well respected and endeared coach, but it had to happen sometime. Arizona improves their situation as they were finally able to go away from the interim coaches and bring in Sean Miller. They dodged more than one bullet in the process though.

Washington State – The final day for Bennett in Pullman was rumored to have been on the horizon for over a year before he finally departed. His presence will be sorely missed by the Cougars, who managed to hire a solid replacement in Ken Bone. Unfortunately, the transitio nwill take a few years before the Cougars could become truly competitive again.

USC – The biggest losers in all of the off-season changes weren’t spared changes at coach either. Scandal, or rumor of one at the very least ran off Tim Floyd. To replace him they brought in the ever-wandering Kevin O’Neill who has limited success anywhere he goes.

Pre-Season Predictions

Standings

Team (Projected conference record) – compared to 08-09

  1. CAL (16-2) – Stagnant
  2. Washington (14-4) – Stagnant
  3. UCLA (12-6) – On the decline
  4. Arizona (11-7) – On the rise
  5. Oregon (10-8) – On the rise
  6. Oregon State (9-9) – On the rise
  7. Arizona State (6-12) – On the decline
  8. Washington State (5-13) – On the decline
  9. USC (4-14) – On the decline
  10. Stanford (2-16) – Stagnant

Player of the Year: Jerome Randle

Freshman of the Year: Abdul Gaddy

First-Team All-PAC-10                  All-Freshman Team

PG-Patrick Christopher  (CAL)         PG-Abdul Gaddy
SG-Jerome Randle  (CAL)                   SG-Trent Lockett
SF-Quincy Pondexter (UW)               SF-Tyler Honeycutt (UCLA)
PF-Joevan Catron (OU)                       PF-Reeves Nelson (UCLA)
C-Michael Dunigan (OU)                      C-Kyryl Natyazhko (UofA

Team by Team

Arizona Wildcats

Projected Finish: Home 6-3, Away 5-4, NCAA Tournament

The Big Question: Can the ‘Cats overcome the adjustment to their third coach in as many seasons, and in the process get impact play from former role palyers and incoming freshman to make it to their 26th consecutive NCAA Tournament?

Key Departures: Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, Zane Johnson
Key Additions: Kyryl Natyazhko, Solomon Hill, Lamont “MoMo” Jones

The priority for the Wildcats this year isn’t the NCAA Tournament – at least that’s what Coach Miller will say. I know it sounds wierd, but he’s actually right. The Wildcats will look bumpy in the early goings as they turn to Jamelle Horne, Kyle Fogg, and a strong recruiting class to fill more than the void left by the departures of Hill and Budinger.

With a new coach in Miller and  versatile backcourt, the ‘Cats have th epieces in order to make ap ush for their 26th straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Of course, that depends on if Nic Wise decides to trust his teammates and showcase his decision making abilities instead of trying to get deep in the paint where he becomes turnover happy.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Projected Finish: Home 4-5, Away 2-7, None

The Big Question: Can the Sun Devils compensate for the loss of Harden and Pendergraph with a turn-around performance by Eric Boateng and a Freshman of the Year type performance from Trent Lockett?

Key Departures: James Harden, Jeff Pendergraph
Key Arrivals: Trent Lockett, Victor Rudd

This is going to be a grueling year for the Sun Devils who look to Rihards Kuksiks and Derek Glasser to be their “to-go'” guys. They still have talent and will be a steady-handed team with Glasser at the helm. But with the combination of athletics and talent failing to combine in one player, the Sun Devils will be looking to rebuild.

Sendek is a solid coach who will instill a game plan that pulls the advantage towards his players, so the Sun Devils will be in a lot of games even if they can’t close them out.

California Golden Bears

Projected Finish: Home 7-1, Away 7-1, NCAA Tournament

The Big Question: With no major changes to their lineup, can the Golden Bears rely on their experience and depth to avoid a late-season collapse circa ’08-’09, propelling them to the top of the conference in Mike Montgomerey’s second season in Berkeley?

Key Departures: None
Key Arrivals: None

When Patrick Christopher opted to stay in school, keeping the best 3-point shooting backcourt intact, the Golden Bears became an almost instant lock for one of the top two spots in the conference.

With more experience, look for guards D.J. Seeley and others to make greater impact as CAl avoids a late-season meltdown and cruisies their way through the conference and into the NCAA Tournament.

Oregon Ducks

Projected Finish Home 6-3, Away 4-5, NIT

The Big Question: Can Kent capitalize on the young talent in Eugene and restoring the Ducks to contention and save his job with one of the greatest single-season turnarounds?

Key Departures: Franz Dorsainvill
Key Additions: Jamil Wilson, E.J. Singler

Last year was an aberratio nfor a team with as much talent as the Ducks had on their roster – at least Ernie Kent hopes so. With players like Michael Dunigan, Joevan Catron, and Tejuan Porter the Ducks have too much talent to suffer like they did last year.

The main argument for another down-year is that losing, just like winning, becomes a habit. Lazy and carless play riddled the Ducks a season ago, but with Mike Dunlap courtside, the Ducks should be more disciplined – especially on the defensive end.

Oregon State Beavers

Projected Finish: Home 4-5, Away 5-4, NIT

The Big Question: After making significant strides last year, can the Beavers continue to surprise this season by jumping into the top five of the conference with addition of a Top-25 recruiting class?

Key Departures: Rickey Claitt
Key Arrivals: Roberto Nelson, Jared Cunning Ham

With how OSU has turned around in just one season under Craig Robinson, it is no wonder there is a strong recruiting pull in Corvallis now – being the POTUS’ brother-in-law aside.

After returning the majority of his roster from a season ago, and adding a Top-15 recruiting class, Robinson will look to push the tempo a little more tihs season as the Beavers are becoming continually more versatile under his watch.

Stanford Cardinal

Projected Finish Home 2-7, Away 0-9, None

The Big Question: Can the cardinal take a step in the right direction despite losing three of their five starters and a key bench player, or will they continue to suffer heavily for another year?

Key Departures: Kenny Brown, Anthony Goods, Lawrence Hill, Mitch Johnson
Key Additions: Gabriel Harris, Andrew Zimmerman

If the below-average season for the Cardinal wasn’t bad enough last season, things are going to ge a whole lot worse as the Caridnal lost a majority of their starting lineup from a year ago and turn to a Santa Clara cast-off and role players to fill that gaping hole.

Barring the surprise development of a below-average role player to elite status, the Cardinal rely entirely on Landy Fields. Despite the conference being weaker than it has bene in recent memory, Fields isn’t capable of carrying the Cardinal past most of the teams in the conference.

UCLA Bruins

Projected Finish: Home 6-3, Away 6-3

The Big Question: Can the freshman and role players from the past two years turn the Bruins into a serious conteder again this year, or will they be like seven of the other teams looking for table scraps after Cal and UW have cleared through?

Key Departures: Alfred Aboya, Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Jrue Holiday, James Diefenbach
Key Arrivals: Tyler Honeycutt, Brendan Lane, Mike Moser, Nelson Reeves, Anthony Stover

The Bruins lost too much to the draft and graduation this past off-season not to suffer a set back. Originally I didn’t expect the setback to be too severe, considering that players like Malcolm Lee and Michael Roll were capable of starting on most teams a year ago. Combine that with a Top-25 recruiting class and it appears the Bruins should be right back near the top again.

But the more I think about it, the less certain I am. Especially with the loss of 47.3 ppg, and 15.7 rpg.  That’s 62% of their scoring power, and 43% of their rebounding. In addition, the Bruins are now deprived of their veteren point guard and center and a constant playe-maker in Jrue Holiday. That’s just too much to compensate for in just one season.

In the end, the Bruins are still one of the top five teams in the conference, but rather than fighting to be one or two, they’ll be fighting to be anywhere from third to sixth.

USC Trojans

Projected Finish: Home 4-5, Away 0-9, None

The Big Question: It’s not really if, but how far will the Trojans fall without a premier freshman on the wing and no threat to speak of inside the paint.

Key Departures: Tim Floyd, DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson, Daniel Hackett, Terence Green, Marcus Johnson, Keith Wilkinson, Their entire 2009 recruiting class
Key Arrivals: Kevin O’Neill – wow, that’s sad when he isn’t just a key arrival, but the only key arrival.

Gone are four of five starters, Time Floyd, ever-changing defenses and just about everything else that made the Trojans a force to be reckoned with last season. With O’Neill at the helm, the Trojans will be strictly a man-to-man defensive team that struggles with the few remnants left in the cupobard after a fall out of one of the worst scandals in recent recruiting.

they still have some talent left that is capable of an upset win or two, but don’t expect anything to come on the road as the Trojans don’t have the talent or power to outcoach or outplay anybody away from the Galen Center.

The Trojans mirror the Cardinal with one primary go-to guy in Dwight Lewis. But it’s going to be abumpy road for the Trojans this season, especially with NCAA sanctions looming in the near future.

Washington Huskies

Projected Finish: Home 7-2, Away 7-2, NCAA Tournament

The Big Question: Can the Huskies get enough production out of their frontcourt to overcome the Golden bears for a top spot in the conference or will the loss of Brockman be too much?

Key Departures: Jon Brockman, Justin Dentmon, Artem Wallace
Key Additions: Abdul Gaddy, Charles Garcia, Clarence Trent, C.J. Wilcox

Abdul Gaddy was a heck of a pick up for Lorezno Romar who will have one of the best backcourts in the conference, if not the nation. The problem the Huskies face is their lack of aproven post player following the departure of Jon Brockman. Matthew Bryan-Amaning is solid, but has not bee relied upon heavily thus far. Bryan-Amaning has been solid in the role he has filled, and should be a confident pick for break-out player of the year with a more prominant role, but there will still be some drop-off.

The Huskies will be good and are the second-most picked team to win the conference. But the decline in the post presence, and less experience will leave them getting passed up by the Golden Bears for top honors.

Washington State Cougars

Projected Finish: Home 2-7, Away 3-6

The Big Question: Can Ken Bone capitalize on players like Klay Thompson to make this team a viable running team and prevent the Cougars from falling into the 8-10 spots in the conference?

Key Departures: Tony Bennet, Aron Baynes, Caleb Forrest, Daven Harmeling, Taylor Rochestie
Key Arrivals: Xavier Thames, Anthony Brown, Reggie Moore

Klay Thompson will fit nicely into the up-tempo pace that former Portland State coach Ken Bone will bring to Pullman, WA. Unfortunately, the Cougars have lost three signicant contributors from their team last year. While they did bring in a few nice recruits, they aren’t the caliber of players that have thee capability to compensate for the loss of players like Taylor Rochestie.

The loss of Bennett is huge, but the Cougars will rebound under Bone. It will be interesting to see how the old-style PAC-10 run-n-gun will play out with a majority of the teams switching to a defense-minded attack with emphasis on quality small forwards.

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Die-Hards Rewarded

Posted by naterb on January 25, 2009

Budinger - You wont like me when Im angry.

Budinger - "You won't like me when I'm angry."

Die hard Arizona fans were given the biggest reward of the season and perhaps the past three years as they witnessed the ‘Cats overcome a 9 point deficit with 54 seconds remaining to force overtime en route to a 96-90 overtime win on Saturday. After dropping three-straight the Wildcats showed more heart and determination than they’ve displayed perhaps all season long. Plagued by turnover woes all season long, the Wildcats have suffered 8 losses a direct result from them Saturday against Houston was no difference as the Wildcats had nearly three-times as many (24-9) as the Cougars, but were able to force four Houston turnovers in the final nine minutes which left the door open for the come-back win.

The Wildcats have seen several bad calls go against them the past few games and have been incapable of overcoming them. This time, however, that was not the case. Aubrey Coleman literally bowled over Chase Budinger with 9:51 remaining and then proceeded to maliciously step on his head. The McKale crowd grew restless and angry chanting “Throw him out! Throw him out!” while the officials reviewed the play before granting the crowd’s wish – and deservingly so. That decision was perhaps the turning point of the game for the ‘Cats as Coleman had dissected the ‘Cats perimeter defense and Houston wasn’t the same without him on the floor. The door was left open by late missed free throws and turnovers on the Cougars behalf, and for the first time all season it was the Wildcats taking advantage of late-game mistakes rather than being victimized by them.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Rivalry

Posted by naterb on January 20, 2009

the-rivalryThere hasn’t been this much drama in the Arizona/Arizona State Rivalry since some audacious ASU fans’ horrendous chants towards Steve Kerr back in 1984. Yes, even more drama than last year when Arizona State seemed to turn the tables by sweeping the ‘Cats. More drama than in 1998 when Arizona left Tempe with a 1-point victory. More dramatic than when ASU won three straight between 1994 and 1995 – their longest during the Lute Olson era in Tucson – to which Arizona responded with 11-straight wins over the Sun Devils.
There have been some great match-ups, Ike Diogu vs. Channing Frye and Eddie House vs. Gilbert Arenas to name a couple. But something is different this year. Arizona State fans are ready to declare that the tables have turned in this rivalry and that they are now the premier team in the state. They’re nationally ranked, have a better record, an impressive road win at Pauley Pavilion and many other arguments to support their case.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are in the midst of their rockiest two season with Lute Olson first taking a leave of absence followed by being forced to retire due to medical conditions. The ‘Cats had a fall-out with their 2008 recruiting class and have turned to searching for hidden talent to produce big performances.

These are all circumstances that perhaps won’t play out beyond this year after Harden departs from ASU and the Wildcats start to rebuild beginning in just a few months when they look to hire a premier head coach to replace Olson on a permanent basis. The Sun Devils will lose a majority of their talent (ie James Harden) after this year and will need to put together some solid recruiting classes if they truly want to turn the tables rather than just repeating their 3-rivalry-game win streak. The Wildcats future is more uncertain and will likely contain a few years of bumps and bruises, but with the right hire they should be able to keep history on their side and continue to dominate this rivalry again down the road. Read the rest of this entry »

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PAC-10 Player of the Week: Week 3

Posted by naterb on January 19, 2009

PAC-10 Player of the Week: DeMar DeRozan (USC)

WhileDeRozan’s total stats aren’t that impressive (32 points, 12 rebounds), DeRozan was largely responsible for holding James Harden to 0-8 and 4 points in a fantastic defensive effort. To me, that’s more impressive than Rochestie’s 44 points, 6 rebounds, and 14 assists against the Oregon schools. Partly because Rochestie did put those numbers up against the Oregon schools, and partly because to hold Harden to 0 field goals is unbelievably incredible.

Runner-Up: Kevin Brill (REF)

Brill almost single-handedly won the game for the Trojans on Saturday. He came up with the big play in a crucial moment that gave the Trojans the confidence and momentum they needed during the final 3:50 to pull out a 1-point home win.

Arizona Player of the Week: Chase Budinger

Budinger is officially out of his slump. After rough outing after rough outing, Budinger finally steps up big. He was the focal point for UCLA and USC defensively and still put up solid numbers against these kids. He gave us fans a glimpse as to why he was so highly touted coming in and why he’s projected as a first-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

Runner Up: Jordan Hill

Hill had a monster game against UCLA, and save but first half foul trouble he had a good game against USC as well.

 

 

 

 

Do you think Kevin Brill would’ve gotten this one right?

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PAC-10 Power Rankings: Week 3

Posted by naterb on January 19, 2009

pac10-power-rankings4

  1. UCLA (E)
    They made Arizona’s make-shift 1-1-3 zone look awful. They had an offensive explosion with five players reaching double-digit scoring. But losing at home against ASU in a game you controlled in the second half shows they aren’t as far ahead of the rest of the conference as they would hope.
    Last Week: W vs. Arizona 83-60, L vs. ASU 61-58
  2. CAL (E)
    With their first loss in conference play coming against a rival in a close game, you can’t fault CAL too much – especially when you went on the road for a game filled with more drama than any other rival game will contain this year. The game against UCLA is getting bigger and bigger each week.
    L at Stanford 75-69
  3. ASU (E)
    A win at Pauley is impressive. But as great as that was, the loss against USC was bad enough to keep them from moving past CAL. Losing by 12 to a defensive minded team exploited their lack of players outside of Pendergraph and Harden. Shut Harden down and they falter.
    L at USC 61-49, W at UCLA 61-58 Read the rest of this entry »

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There Are NO Goats Here

Posted by naterb on January 17, 2009

 

Don't make him your scape goat.
Don’t make him your scape goat.

Despite USC constantly chipping away at Arizona’s lead, the Wildcats looked as if they were headed for their first road win of the season – until Nic Wise was called for an intentional foul away from the ball with 3:50 left on the clock. From that moment on 7 of USC’s final 11 points came from the free throw line – including the game winner with 1.2 seconds remaining. It would be easy to find a scape goat to pin another one-point loss onto, but in reality that’s ridiculous.

Yes, the officiating was terrible with blown calls left and right, the worst of which the intentional foul on Wise, but Arizona still controlled the game despite the officiating. Sure, Jordan Hill missed a late-game free throw, but he never should’ve received the inbounds pass, and Budinger shouldn’t have been in-bounding the ball. Nic Wise definitely shouldn’t have thrown the ball away on the Wildcats final possession, but he shouldn’t have even had the ball in that situation. Not a single one of these things should have happened, but they did. That’s just the misfortune the ‘Cats have had on the road this year.

This was the best performance on the road the ‘Cats have had all season long. They controlled most of the game and held the lead for almost all of it. I commend the ‘Cats for that, but it all came unraveled in the final 3:50 putting the ‘Cats in a position they never ought to have been in. So blame Budinger, Hill, Wise, Horne, Johnson, Fogg, the officials and everyone else if you want, but to pin it on one play or one player is bogus.

The Wildcats did a nice job making adjustments throughout the game. When Budinger was face guarded, they ran him off staggered double-screens to get him open looks. When Jordan Hill picked up his second foul with 9 minutes remaining in the first half, the ‘Cats continued to fight by scoring 19 more points before halftime. After giving up 11 first-half offensive rebounds, they cranked down and only allowed four more in the second half. I was very impressed by the overall effort of the Wildcats tonight, but it’s the worst way for a great game to end – with a one-point loss.

The Good:

Chase Budinger – Budinger was aggressive tonight, and the ‘Cats looked to get him the ball for most of the night. While facing an intense defense designed with him as the focal point Budinger came up big for the ‘Cats with 19 points on 60% shooting. A game like that against the nations 5th best defense is what reminds us that despite his slumps, he has the talent to become a solid player in the NBA.

Jamelle Horne: Horne was a major contributor and a big reason why Arizona had a shot at pulling off their first road win tonight. I’m sure you’re probably mad that I didn’t put him down in the “Ugly” section because of his last second foul that led to the game-winning free throw by Hackett. To judge Horne’s performance based on a ticky-tack foul is an injustice to what he did. Horne is a major reason why USC only got 4 offensive rebounds in the second half. He was aggressive going after the ball even leapt higher than Taj Gibson for rebounds on consecutive plays. Horne did exactly what we needed him to, scored (8 points), was active defensively (2 steals), and was crashing the boards (7 rebounds). One mistake doesn’t change the fact that he was a major contributor and a big reason why Arizona was in a position to win this game.

The Bad:

Simple Mistakes: I’ve already listed them above. Budinger in-bounding the ball, Hill missing a crunch-time free throw, Wise turning the ball over, as well as a shot clock violation. These were signs that this team is struggling and has youth and an interim coach at the helm. They are all easily correctable. Not one of these plays single-handedly lost the game for the ‘Cats (nor did Horne’s foul) – but a culmination of them and the refs was enough to shoot the Wildcats in the paw.

The Ugly:

Many fans’ reaction to Jamelle Horne following his late-game foul. He was in a good defensive position, staying in front of Hackett, and was called for a tacky foul. Yes, it was heart-breaking. But if I’m Horne, I’m not embarrassed or upset with myself for that play. He was where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to do and got called for a cheap foul when the ref should’ve swallowed his whistle. Horne wasn’t chasing Hackett down and going Superman-style on him. He didn’t clobber him, and he didn’t foul him in the act of shooting. He was playing defense!

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Take it Personal: Arizona @ USC

Posted by naterb on January 17, 2009

The threat level of Arizona’s NCAA Tournament streak coming to an end has been heightened to critical after a blow-out loss to UCLA on Thursday. It’s not the single game that has put it there, it is a large accumulation of things. Ineffective defense, poor shooting and decision making, mostly non-existent bench players, points given up in transition, and a big donut in the road wins column. Arizona will get a chance to put a vertical number in the left column when limp into the Galen Center later today.

I’m going to keep this preview short, as in my mind there is really only one pressing issue for Arizona that will make or break any remaining hope for an NCAA Tournament bid. I’m sure you can figure what that is, but we’ll get there in a minute.

USC has shown significant strides over the more recent portion of the season. They hung tough against UCLA, and beat ASU – which should be no surprise to anyone that really pays attention to PAC-10 basketball. Sure they lost to OSU, but teams have bad games, mental lapses, or get caught looking ahead – don’t expect that to happen tonight at the Galen Center. You can expect Tim Floyd to have a defensive scheme to throw at Budinger, Hill, and Wise. Most likely a triangle and two with Hill and Budinger receiving heightened attention throughout the game.

Tim Floyd is known for catering his defensive schemes to individual schools based upon their strengths and weaknesses. Because of it the Trojans are ranked the ninth best defense according to pomeroy.com. They have built that ranking by being the 5th best team in the nation in blocked shots with 5.2 per game, and hold teams to 39% shooting from the field. DeMar DeRozan is being a very tough defender for the Trojans, but his inexperience may cause him problems against Budinger.

Offensively the Trojans are led by Dwight Lewis, Taj Gibson, and Daniel Hackett. Hackett is a tough-as-nails player who gets in opponents faces, dives for loose balls, and leaves it all on the court. But despite shooting over 51% as a team the Trojans have shown signs of inconsistency due to selfish play. The Trojans average 15.6 turnovers per game, only Oregon with 15.7 turns the ball over more in the conference, and have a 0.87 a/to! Their lack of cohesiveness as a team has led to some late game problems when the game is on the line. The Trojans’ turnover problems bring me to the pressing issue I alluded to earlier and my keys to the game.

Keys to the Game:

  1. Defense, Defense, Defense (Part 1)- USC, as I mentioned is the 5th best defense in the nation. Arizona… well… 111 before the thumping by UCLA on Tuesday. Arizona’s “Claw” defense is so ineffective the Wildcats may as well be sitting in lawn chairs while on the defensive end. Arizona needs to crank up the pressure and make some changes. I don’t care if it is going to a man defense, a 3-2 zone, or a 1-3-1. Just find something that works and do it!
    Projected Need: Force USC to shoot less than 40% on the night, and less than 35% from beyond the arc.
  2. Defense, Defense, Defense (Part 2) – Not only do they need to find a defense that works, they need to find one that can give them more opportunities to get out and run. The ‘Cats have been drastically outscored in points off turnovers during their three of their five conference games, and in five of their six losses of the season.
    Projected Need: Force USC into 15 turnovers, and limit their transition points to fewer than 8.
  3. Defense, Defense, Defense (Part 3) – It’s not just Arizona’s lack of perimeter defense that has been appalling, it’s how easily teams are able to break the zone defense and get the ball for wide-open jumpers around the free throw line. If that isn’t bad enough, they are allowing opponents to dribble penetrate past them which leads to offensive rebounds as Hill is forced to defend the ball leaving the weak-side rebound up for grabs.
    Projected Needs: Hill 6 defensive rebounds, Limit Gibson to 3 or fewer offense rebounds
  4. Battle on the Blocks: Jordan Hill and Taj Gibson, the conferences best two big men, will be going head to head. Gibson leads the conference in blocked shots (3.1 per game), and is second in rebounding (10.3 per game). Meanwhile, Hill is second in the conference in blocked shots (2.3 per game) and first in rebounding (11.8 per game). The Wildcats have gone away from Hill when he had a significant advantage over each team in conference play this year, they better not do the same tonight.
    Projected Need: Hill 16 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, 35 minutes
  5. Take it Personal: The Wildcats have seemed to have a ho-hum attitude ever since conference play began. I know they haven’t given up on Pennell & Co., but they certainly aren’t firing on all cylinders and aren’t playing with emotion. Arizona needs to take it personal if they want to keep their slipping chances for an NCAA Tournament bid within grasp. Defensively they need to be more aggressive. They need to take the shots they are given, and they need to play with a fire in their eyes as if this were the game that could burst their bubble.

 

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Bruins De-"Claw" Cats

Posted by naterb on January 16, 2009

 

 

 

 

Arizona’s make-shift 1-3-1 “Claw” defense was methodically ripped to shreds in an 83-60 mauling at the hands of the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. This isn’t the first time that the Wildcats have seen their Dunlap brainstorm defense look this bad – Cal did it, Stanford did it, and most dramatically so did UNLV. The ‘Claw’ is designed to pressure opponents front court into making what Oregon Coach Ernie Kent deemed as ‘basketball plays’ but not necessarily to trap or create turnovers. After a player is able to make a tough play (splitting a double-team, reversing the ball, finding the open skip pass, etc.) their teammates are able to find easy looks from beyond the arc or in the middle of the court right around the free throw line..

 

 

That major flaw in the zone was exploited at will by the Bruins who shot nearly 60% from the field, and had 9 of their 28 buckets come from right in the center of that gap. When the Bruins weren’t passing into the heart of the defensive gap, they were using dribble penetration to slip past Arizona’s perimeter players just about any time they looked to. If and when the defense collapsed, UCLA did a great job of kicking the ball out for 17 open looks beyond the arc. The ‘Cats have proven they can make this work, but have yet to do so against a good three-point shooting team, and UCLA made the defensive problems so glaring that Pennell and Co. may need to go back to the drawing board midway through the season.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the court the Bruins did just enough to disrupt the Wildcats and force them into the occasional turnover. UCLA’s defense wasn’t as stifling as it has been against the ‘Cats in previous years, but it was still enough to disrupt the Wildcats offensive flow and put them into a few two-minute scoring droughts over the course of the game. The Wildcats were able to limit their turnovers, as they had 9 before Garland Judkins’ 2 turnovers with under 4 minutes remaining. Unfortunately those 9 turnovers led to the Wildcats being significantly outscored in fast-break opportunities again – a common theme in each of the last six losses.

 

The Wildcats problems continued against UCLA when Nic Wise was limited to a paltry five on points on 1-for-8 shooting, and appears to be going head-long into a slump of his own. Wise, who is now 2-17 in the last two games, has been providing a significant portion of Arizona’s offense this season, was did have an impact on the game with 5 assists as several times he penetrated and dished off to the open man. I was very pleased with how Wise kept his head in the game and continued to find ways to help his team even if his shots weren’t falling. Occasionally, however, the Wildcats need Wise to become a scorer and not just a playmaker, particularly when Jordan Hill is on the bench due to foul trouble.

 

Wise wasn’t the real problem offensively tonight, that comes down on Arizona’s “hustle” guys – Jamelle Horne and Kyle Fogg. I’m not bashin’ on the kids here, but they have both seen better games. Horne and Fogg thrive on picking up loose rebounds, coming up with the occasional steal, and doing all the intangibles that make every team “stick.” The ‘Cats two hustle guys came up with 7 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal. If you take away the final two minutes they only combined for 3 points before the UCLA bench was cleared. Big stats aren’t typically something you expect out of the hustle guys, but unfortunately with this roster against a team like UCLA, it is a must-have if they want to win.

So it’s not that the Wildcats had a horrendous night, but they clearly aren’t hitting on all cylinders right now. Perhaps that illusive first road-win won’t come until the ‘Cats travel to Washington or Oregon later this season. Perhaps they just can’t win on the road – period. Maybe it’s just that they’re unlucky when it comes to road games at the toughest venues the PAC-10 has to offer? Whatever the case may be, one thing is apparent: The ‘Cats still need a lot of work when other teams are fine-tuning and that spells trouble.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

With 54% shooting adding up to 14 points, it is safe to say that Budinger is out of his slump.

Jordan Hill was a monster inside the paint yet again. But once again the ‘Cats failed to look for him within 8 feet of the basket with any regularity. Hill handled the double and triple teams the Bruins threw at him quite well on the night though.

I can’t complain about the officiating. Sure there were a few bad calls and a few blown ones. That’s basketball, and PAC-10 basketball at that.

I really like what I’m seeing out of Zane Johnson the last several games. He’s been putting in extra time in the gym working on his jumper and it’s paying off. He could be rewarded with a starting job in the near future.

While UCLA’s defense was solid, it wasn’t as impressive as it has been in previous years. The Wildcats found themselves with quite a few open looks but for whatever reason just couldn’t knock ‘em down.

Another problem I have with Arizona’s defensive effort is the growing trend of long offensive rebounds. UCLA exploited every second chance opportunity that they had and turned them into points. Every single one of them.

Garland Judkins was back at practice this week, and back in the game tonight but is clearly on a short leash. I’d be amazed if he doesn’t transfer at the end of the season – if he’s still on the team then.

UCLA’s ShotChart:

 

ucla-shotchart

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, Game Recap, NCAA Basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Game Preview: Arizona @ UCLA

Posted by naterb on January 14, 2009

tipoff“You can beat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion.” Those are the words that Assistant Coach Mike Dunlap has for the Wildcats every day during practice. The ‘Cats are hearing the message and by all accounts appear to be buying into it. UCLA has heard Dunlap’s message as well, and are preparing for Arizona’s best shot, even if the Bruins’ fans aren’t.

 It’s been nearly three years since the Wildcats beat the Bruins – and it just so happened the last win came at Pauley Pavilion. Since that February game in 2005, both teams have had complete roster turnovers with the exception of UCLA’s Josh Shipp. That shows just how dominant the Bruins have been over Arizona the past few years. As an Arizona fan, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

So after seven straight games and almost three years, what is it going to take to make Dunlap’s words a reality? Let’s cover the obvious fan retorts- UCLA injuries, miracles, a lucky night, UCLA looking past Arizona, and any other number of would-be post-game excuses would all be pathetic reasons for victory at Pauley. But I don’t think that’s what Dunlap and the Wildcats have in mind. So we’ll break down UCLA’s counterparts to Arizona, followed by the Keys to the Game.

Point Guard: Nic Wise vs. Darren Collison

Collison is the better guard here, hands down. Collison is a lightning quick point guard with great court vision, the ability to shoot the long jumper or create his own shot, and plays very smart basketball. Collison is only 6-0 (2-inches taller than Wise) but is an aggressive defender with long arms that menace point guards into poor decisions.

Nic Wise was not the primary point guard for Arizona last season, and struggled to find his niche under Kevin O’Neill while Jerryd Bayless was in the game. Wise, while not known for his on-ball defense, has shown improvement and is a master at dropping down into the paint to strip the big men on the low block. While Wise has shown improvement in his decision making and shot selection over the course of the year, he still has a long way to go to finding that sweet spot between being aggressive and allowing the game to come to him. As a playmaker and the floor general, that is a key element of his game that the Wildcats need him to pick up on.

Last Year: Nic Wise played 1 game with 12 points, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers

Darren Collison averaged 14 points, 4 assists, 2 turnovers in two games against Arizona, but had 16 points, 7 assists, and 1 turnover while at Pauley.

Shooting Guard: Kyle Fogg vs. Jrue Holiday

Freshman vs. Freshman here. Fogg and Holiday have both become the best on-ball defenders their respective teams have to offer. Holiday is the more athletic of the two and takes defensive challenges personally. In fact, he even asked to guard DeMar DeRozan in the USC game after DeRozan got off to a good start. Subsequently DeRozan only scored five more points with Holiday on him. Chances are that mentality will find Holiday guarding Chase Budinger instead, with Shipp defending Fogg.

Holiday, unlike Fogg, is an offensive threat. He has a decent long-range shot and can work his way to the rim. Fogg, however, can shoot long range but has been apprehensive about taking the open look far too frequently. Credit Fogg, however, for continually showing growth in every area of his game, and finding ways to score and collect loose balls.

Small Forward: Chase Budinger vs. Josh Shipp

Shipp is a lean athletic shooting guard, that like all of Howland’s players, is trademarked by in-your-face defense. Shipp is an explosive player who has the capability of dropping 20 points on a team that allows him to get into a nice flow. Shipp has great career numbers against the ‘Cats averaging 13.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2 steals each contest. Shipp likes to get out into the open court and run in transition, so a big part of stopping him will be stopping transition.

Budinger isn’t nearly as talented defensively as Shipp is, but he is the more explosive player. If Budinger is assertive on the offensive end he becomes difficult for anybody to guard. Since the probability of Holiday guarding Budinger is pretty high, the ‘Cats will need to look to find Budinger slashing to the bucket and posting up the smaller Holiday. Budinger is due for a big game against a tough opponent this year, and it would be great to see him get it against a team that he is still winless against in his collegiate career. My train of thought has always been that Budinger doesn’t show up to play against the Bruins’ aggressive defense – but I crunched his career numbers and was surprised at what I saw.

Budinger’s Stat Line: 14 ppg, 40% fg, 5.5 rebounds, 2.75 assists, 2.75 turnovers

Power Forward: Jamelle Horne vs. Nikola Dragovic

James Keefe has been the typical starter for the Bruins this season, in part because Howland considered him the better defender. But Howland said that Dragovic has closed that defensive gap, and is a bigger offensive threat so he’ll get his second start of the season against Arizona. Dragovic has performed well his previous two games, and has filled the role player spot well. Dragovic has the capability of knocking down the occasional three-pointer, but considering he only shoots 25% from beyond the arc, Horne should let him make one before stepping out on him.

Jamelle Horne is the more athletic of the two players, and plays a lot bigger than his 6’7” frame would indicate. Horne did not have an opportunity for significant minutes against UCLA under Kevin O’Neill a year ago. So Horne’s athleticism and hustle may prove to be an ace in the hole for the ‘Cats.

Center: Jordan Hill vs. Alfred Aboya

Aboya is a thug on the inside. He provided a different defensive look for UCLA last year when they would move Kevin Love off of Hill. This year, the change in personnel guarding Hill won’t make as much of an impact. Hill is a superior interior player than any Bruin. Hill will need to play under control and avoid offensive fouls, and picking up tacky fouls when trying to block shots of penetrating guards.

Aboya is a tough defender and a decent shot blocker for UCLA, but his big threat is junk stats. Aboya hustles for loose balls and rebounds, he’s very active on the offensive glass, and like Jamelle Horne, can pick up junk stats with some regularity.

The Bench:

UCLA has a much deeper bench than the Wildcats, and can get productive minutes from three players off the bench, and two more can provide mistake free minutes to help the Bruins starters get rested. The key bench players for the Bruins are Michael Roll and James Keefe.

Roll is an improved version of Zane Johnson. He can shoot the three, and has the tendency of finding himself open around the elbow or baseline with good looks. Roll won’t impress you with his athleticism or rebounding, but he’s a smart player with a nice stroke.

Keefe isn’t much of an offensive threat, but expect to see him come in to log some defensive minutes against Jordan Hill. Keefe is a solid defender, but will likely struggle against the taller, more athletic Hill.

Arizona’s bench has been iffy at best this season. We’ve seen erratic production from Judkins and Lavendar. Zane Johnson has stepped up his game and become more aggressive the past few games, and a continuing that effort and results will be vital for Arizona if they want to pull of the road win at Pauley.

Injuries:

Arizona – None

UCLA – Malcolm Lee, another key reserve for UCLA, is listed as probable. Freshman center J’Mison Morgan is doubtful

Head to Head:

UCLA is deeper, more athletic, and better defensive team that Arizona is. But they aren’t infallible, and they aren’t as good as they’ve been the previous 2 years. The ‘Cats, although not as talented as last year, are playing better team basketball and when things are going well believe they have a shot against anybody. It won’t be easy to pull off a road win in Pauley against a great team like UCLA, but it isn’t unrealistic to think they can do it.

 

Head-to-Head

Head-to-Head

Keys to the Game:

  1. Secure the Package: UCLA is averaging over 9 steals a game behind their in-your-face perimeter defense. The ‘Cats need to play smart, controlled basketball and limit their mistakes because they won’t be able to keep up with UCLA for 40 minutes of transition basketball.
    Projected Need: Limit turnovers to 12 or fewer, while forcing UCLA into at least 10.
  2. Limit Collison: Collison is the drive train for this UCLA offense. If they can limit his ability to pass and find open teammates the ‘Cats will be headed in the right direction. Just as with the Gonzaga game, point guard play is going to be key.
    Projected Need: Limit Collison to 5 or fewer assists, while forcing him into 3 or more turnovers.
  3. Break-out Budinger: Budinger has been handcuffed the past few games, and more importantly against defenses tailored to limit him. Budinger has decent numbers against ULA with one bad game, and one great game to show for his two years. Coming off the series against the Oregon Schools, Budinger appears to be heading out of his slump and due for a big game in the near future.
    Projected Needs: Budinger – 16+ points, 45 FG%, 3 3-pointers, 3 assists, 2 or fewer turnovers.
  4. Exploit the Advantage: Jordan Hill has no match to be found on UCLA’s roster. But, as with Oregon, perimeter defense can limit the touches that Hill gets. The ‘Cats need to find Hill on the low block or within 8 feet throughout the game.
    Projected Needs: Hill – 18+ points, 35 minutes playing time, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks, 75% FT%.
  5. Four through Six: Arizona needs Jamelle Horne, Kyle Fogg, and Zane Johnson each to step up big in this game. Between them they need to apply defensive pressure, scrap for loose balls, steal some rebounds, and do all those intangibles you expect from role players. The needed impact of the role players in this game can not be understated, as they are likely the most vital part of Arizona’s upset hopes. If they can step up big, Arizona has a honest chance, if they don’t it could prove to be a long night for the ‘Cats.
    Projected Needs: Horne, Fogg, Johnson combined – 24 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, less than 5 turnovers.

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PAC-10 Weekly Preview

Posted by naterb on January 14, 2009

PAC-10 conference play rolls on this week as the Arizona schools travel to visit the LA schools, the Oregon Schools host their neighboring Washington schools, and Cal travels to Stanford for this week’s rivalry match-up. After the week is through we should start seeing a clearer picture of how the conference shakes up with two of the top three teams facing off, a pair of middle-of-the-pack teams going head-to-head, and some of the bottom of the barrel teams matching up.

Arizona 11-5 (2-2) W2

Chase Budinger looks to continue to pull out of his shooting slump when the ‘Cats face UCLA and USC on the road this week. The ‘Cats will have to notch up their playing level as they’ve been inconsistent at best the past four or five games.

Arizona State 14-2 (3-1) W2

Arizona State’s claim to contend for the Conference Title is put on the line this week as they face off with UCLA, the pre-season favorite, at Pauley Pavilion. James Harden will keep them in the game, but they’ll need solid minutes from Pendergraph and at least one other player if they hope to pull off the tough road win.

USC 10-5 (1-2) L2

USC hopes to get back to their winning ways when Arizona State and Arizona pull into town this week. DeMar Derozan has started to step up, but even at home the Trojans will need more than a good freshman to propel them towards a sweep.

UCLA 13-2 (3-0) W9

The Bruins are looking to build on a nine-game win streak, and hope to protect their home court against the Arizona schools. Collison has been an absolute stud this season, and it should be interesting to see how they hold up in their toughest conference challenges yet this year.

Washington State 9-6 (1-2) W1

Washington State is looking to build upon their slight victory over the Cardinal last week. Fortunately they face off against an inexperienced Oregon team. But the interesting match-up will be when they face off against Oregon State who play a similar slow-down offense as the Cougars.

Washington 11-4 (2-1) L1

A tough triple-overtime loss to Cal hurts, but Washington should be ready to take it to the Ducks and the Beavers this week. Brockman could be in for a huge week as he faces off against the Ducks with an inexperienced big-man, and Oregon State with no true inside presence to speak of.

Oregon State 6-8 (1-3) L 2

The Beavers aren’t any more talented than they were last year – but they’re playing an offense more suited to their strengths. They’re organized and experienced. Playing at home might even give them an edge towards their second conference victory this week.

Oregon 6-10 (0-4) L4

The biggest question for the Ducks right now has to be when the veteran players are going to step up and lead this team. They’ve collapsed in big games thus far, and too much has been left on a great freshman in Michael Dunigan – who ironically is almost an after thought in the Ducks offense.

Rivalry Match-Up: CAL & Stanford

CAL 15-2 (4-0) W9

The Golden Bears are on a 9 game winning streak with solid conference wins over ASU, Arizona, and Washington. Now they travel across the Bay to play their rivals. It should be interesting to see Mike Montgomery back in Maples for the first time as an opposing coach this weekend.

Stanford 11-3 (1-3) L2

Stanford’s front court has been the marquis headliner for the Cardinal so far this year. They’ll get a huge test when they have to stop on Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle. This should be an interesting guard match-up with Stanford fighting an uphill battle – even at home.

Thursday’s Games:

Washington State @ Oregon State
Washington @ Oregon
Arizona State @ Southern Cal.
Arizona @ UCLA

Saturday’s Games:

Washington State @ Oregon
Arizona State @ UCLA
CAL @ Stanford
Arizona @ USC
Washington @ Oregon State

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