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Posts Tagged ‘Aron Baynes’

Pre-Game: WAZZU@ ARizona

Posted by naterb on January 30, 2009

After defeating the Washington Huskies with a deluge of free throws, the Wildcats turn their sights on the Washington State Cougars as they covet more momentum heading into the second half of conference play. A win against the Cougars would place them one-game behind their longest winning streak of the season (four) with a road trip to face the Oregon schools on the horizon. It’s irrefutable that for the Wildcats to extend their consecutive NCAA Tournament streak they must continue their winning streak for at least three more games.

 

On paper, the Cougars are a very misleading team to behold. They only have three players averaging double-digits in scoring, and score a conference low 58.9 points per contest. The Cougars, however, are much better than basic stats can foretell – any seasoned PAC-10 fan can tell you as much. “Bennett Ball” is a very methodical, pain-stakingly slow offense that thrives on defensive mistakes of their opponents.

 

On the other hand, defensively they only allow 52.6 points per game – first in the conference. This figure is also misleading, and neither the Cougar’s offensive or defensive stats should be taken at face value. But no matter how you look at it, the key to defeating Washington State is limiting lost possessions and forcing the tempo of the game. Arizona State failed to do that and lost by 10, while Gonzaga managed to reach the 70-point plateau and won decisively.

 

 

The Cougars have also received solid contributions for Aron Baynes and freshman Klay Thompson this year. Thompson has the makings of fitting Bennett’s system much the way that Derrick Lowe did in previous years, though Thompson is more athletic but has less experience. He is still a volatile element for the Cougars, but is a year or two away from consistently being a threat the way that Lowe was in previous years.

 

Keys to the Game

  •  Force the Tempo: Arizona needs to get out and run on the Cougars a bit – it’s not that they can’t handle the up-tempo game, but anytime you can take a team out of their game plan you gain an advantage over them. If this game finishes with the winner sitting in the low 60’s it will likely be Washington State. On the other hand if it sits in the upper 60’s or low 70’s the probability will be Arizona coming out on top.
  • Protect the Ball: The Wildcats’ turnover woes continued against Washington on Thursday night, though they did improve from their previous game – though that’s not saying much. The Cougars have a conference best 11.8 turnovers per game, so Arizona really needs to buckle down and do a better job of ball control on Saturday.
  • Exploit the Athleticism: Bennett ball has an emphasis on smart players, not athletic ones. Because of this if Arizona can play smart (limit turnovers, grab rebounds, stay focused defensively) then their athleticism will be a huge advantage for them. They need to use their speed to attack the rim and the paint, and to apply pressure on the perimeter.
Rochestie celebrates a win over host James Harden & the ASU Sun Devils
Rochestie celebrates a win over host James Harden & the ASU Sun Devils

You have to give credit to this squad for performing how they have in games and consistently holding to their game plan – even when down by double-digits under five-minutes remaining. For that you have to give credit to their floor general, Taylor Rochestie, for keeping his head and tapping into the experience he has as a senior. Rochestie is a sure-handed guard who averages 4.7 (Conference rank: 6th in total assists) assists and only 2.4 turnovers per game (third in a/to ratio in guards with 90 assists or more on the season).

 

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PAC-10 Power Rankings

Posted by naterb on January 6, 2009

 

Every morning you can pick up your local newspaper or go online to any major sports website and look up the current standings in the PAC-10. If you were to do that any time before this Thursday here’s what you would see:

1. UCLA 2-0

2. CAL 2-0

3. Washington 1-0

4. Stanford 1-1

5. ASU 1-1

6. USC 1-1

7. OSU 1-1

8. WSU 0-1

9. Arizona 0-2

10. Oregon 0-2

 

Darren Collison
Darren Collison

But standings at this point in the conference season don’t mean anything. Do you honestly believe that Oregon State is better than Arizona, Oregon or Washington? As conference play wears on the standings will be perpetually more revealing as to how each of the teams stack up. Now, I know this is impossible, but it would be nice if the media had some way of reporting how the teams are really stacked up, and not just by their record. So I’ve decided to pick up there and every week I’ll break down the PAC-10 and rank them against one another. Enjoy!

 

  1. UCLA – It’s no surprise that they stand on top of the conference after the opening weekend. Shipp and Collison were impressive this weekend on the road.
  2. CAL – Their sweep of the Arizona schools is more impressive than UCLA’s conference wins, but it’s too early to use that as a bearing point right now. Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher are a great one-two punch and have Cal vying for the top position in the PAC-10.
  3. ASU – A 30 point win over Stanford at Maples? Even if Stanford is down this year, that’s still impressive. CAL exploited their weaknesses and showed that ASU needs another offensive weapon.
  4. Washington – Defeating your in-state rivals on their floor is always a great way to start conference play. The Huskies have seen continued production from Jon Brockman, Isaiah Thomas, and Justin Dentmon. If they want to stay ranked this high, they’ll need Quincy Pondexter to step up.
  5. Stanford – That 30 point loss at home was embarrassing, but they bounced back and controlled their match-up with Arizona, even on an off night. Their lack of interior presence will become problematic over the course of conference play. They over-came it this weekend, so until their style falters this is where they belong.
  6. USC – Winning on the road in the PAC-10 isn’t easy, period. But to be the team that snaps Oregon State’s 17-game losing streak is downright embarrassing. The Trojans have more problems than a tough road loss to a bad Oregon State team. They have an athletic and talented roster, but they aren’t playing as a team. They’ll continue to struggle until the players view the team as more than a yield sign into the NBA.
  7. Arizona – Going 0-2 to start conference play is never good. But for a young team whose leader is struggling you can’t fault them too much. Things should be okay in Arizona once Budinger finds his way out of this wicked slump. Until then, all talk of contending for a tournament bid should be silenced.
  8. Oregon State – It must feel great to get that monkey off their back, especially against a team that was picked to finish in the top four of the conference. Has the new coach breathed life into these kids, or was this simply a flash in the pan?
  9. Washington State – Their off-season losses are grossly apparent. It wasn’t the fact that they lost their rivalry game at home that has them ranked so low. It’s the fact that an average Washington team flat out toyed with them. Rochestie, Thompson, and Baynes need to step up in a big way or this is going to be a long season.
  10. Oregon – What’s worse than starting conference play 0-2? Doing that on your home court. The Ducks should be fine as long as Ernie Kent can get the freshmen up to speed. It will be another up and down season for the Ducks though.

 

Alright, I admit it… I’m a stat junkie. I get excited looking at a box score. I like seeing a player putting up 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists more than seeing a guy go for 30 points. Why? Partly because I like seeing all the little boxes with something filled in – might be some form of OCD – but mostly because I value the complete game more than a scorer any day. But stats can only tell you so much. While they can give you an idea as to how a player or team performed, they aren’t definitive. The same can be said of Conference standings.

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PAC-10: Contenders vs. Pretenders

Posted by naterb on December 31, 2008

As PAC-10 play has drawn closer, I’ve been taking a good look at the different teams and haven’t been too startled by what I saw. The only exception to that has been the success of Stanford and their undefeated record after losing the Lopez Twins to the NBA. They are even receiving votes in the AP and the Coaches polls! So I started kicking around the teams trying to sift through the soft OOC schedules, and misleading stats trying to figure out who will challenge for the PAC-10 crown this year.

The obvious choice is going to be UCLA. Sure, they’re down from the past two or three years, but they’re still a potent team with stifling perimeter defense and the best backcourt in the conference. But I didn’t want to just stick with “UCLA wins it… again,” I wanted to really dig into the conference. So pretend that UCLA is out of the equation – they lose Collison to a knee injury or for whatever reason the team implodes costing them 5 or 6 games and effectively the conference title.

 

Now I’d love to pick my Arizona Wildcats, that would be a great farewell gift to Olson for putting this team together, and a nice reward for Pennell and Co. who stepped in to pick up the pieces in the wake of Olson’s sudden retirement. However, they’re a very inexperienced team that is relying on three main players and a supporting cast that is largely unknown and mostly unproven. Despite this, Arizona is a strong candidate to play for the conference title. However, to prevent the homer pick of Arizona, we’ll pretend that Jordan Hill’s strained calf muscle is a torn ligament and he can’t play until next year.

 

Let’s whittle down the options here by eliminating teams that even with just eight teams to choose from, still don’t have a chance. First to go is clearly Oregon State. They are barely a .500 team against competition that is severely sub-par of PAC-10 caliber. With losses to Howard, Yale, Montana State to name a few, there is little hope of them picking up 2 wins this season.

Next off the board has to be Washington State. I like their program and their deliberate style, but at some point when push comes to shove you need a guy that can get to the rim and take over a big game. Their leading scorers (Aron Baynes 11.4 ppg, Klay Thompson 11.0 ppg, and Taylor Rochestie 10.2 ppg) are not players that can get terribly physical and have yet to show up against a quality team. All four of their losses have come against the only opponents on their schedule that could compete in the PAC-10. During these losses (Pitt, Baylor, Gonzaga, and LSU) their three leading scorers combined for an average of 26 points. If they want to compete, someone needs to step up.

Elimination next stops in Eugene, Oregon with the Ducks. They lost a lot of talent gone to wasted efforts last year, and brought in a solid recruiting class. Their youth isn’t coming along as quickly as Ernie Kent would probably like, and they’ve lost a couple ugly games because of it. If I were going strictly by record, they’d be off the board before WSU; However, they do have a good amount of talent and finally have a good inside presence with Michael Dunigan. Dunigan is a bad performance or two away from having been the Ducks’ leading scorer to this point. The potential of this team far exceeds Washington State right now, and that’s why Oregon gets a spot ahead of WSU.

Picking the middle of the remaining teams is almost like splitting hairs. Stanford is undefeated because of exceptional backcourt performances, and Washington has three losses, and no quality wins, but have a huge frontcourt advantage. So who’s next?

It has to be Stanford. I’m impressed with their 9-0 record after losing the Lopez Twins and all frontcourt presence from a year ago. That is, I’m impressed until I look at who they’ve played. Their only reasonably good win is Santa Clara, and only by 8 points. The Cardinal backcourt of Mitch Johnson, Anthony Goods, and Landry Fields appears to have stepped its game up a notch from a year ago. Heading into conference play the three guards account for 48 percent of the Cardinal’s scoring. Guard play is extremely important, especially in the PAC-10. But with opposing guards like Harden, DeRozan, Rochestie,  Randle and Christopher to face off against, it’s going to be difficult to outmatch any team in the backcourt. Despite the performances of Lawrence Hill and Josh Owens, Stanford needs more inside presence if they want to win the conference this year.

Like I said, this is like splitting hairs. Stanford needs inside presence, but Washington needs another scorer. The frontcourt of Jon Brockman and Matthew Bryan-Amaning is the most formidable in the conference and the inside size advantage alone is what sets them ahead of Stanford. But the Huskies are still waiting for Quincy Pondexter to step up consistently and become the wingman he has the potential to be. Pondexter has only had three of those games this year with 21 points, 16 points, and 14 points, but not one of them against a good defensive team. The Huskies’ backcourt consists of the forementioned Pondexter and two guards under six-feet – Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon. Thomas is the second-leading scorer with 14.8 ppg followed by Dentmon at 12.4. These two guards have the capability to get to the rim, draw the foul, and shoot from beyond the arc. But guards under six foot have a history of falling off the table during conference play. When matching up against taller guards like Collison of UCLA, or Fogg of Arizona the height becomes a huge disadvantage. Clearly, if Washington wants the title they need a guard taller than 6′ to step up – namely Quincy Pondexter.

The remaining three teams are clearly head and shoulders above the five I’ve already covered. And picking the gem amongst them is extremely difficult. I know that no matter what order I put them in, there is going to be debate and argument over it. Each team has a solid case for the best of the group, but ultimately I feel it comes down to who has the most rounded unit combined with coaching ability. Since coaching adjustments, team management, and the fact that when push comes to shove the coach is blamed if they fail and only given a quiet congratulations if they succeed, the head coach has to be the distinguishing factor amongst these three teams.

For that reason, USC has to come off the board. Tim Floyd has done a good job with these kids. They play a very physical and aggressive style of basketball. Combined with four legitimate scorers and you’ve got a recipe for success. But my problem with this team comes back to Tim Floyd. It isn’t their style or abilities that has me concerned. It’s the fact that Floyd has permitted this program to become merely a stepping stone for players like Mayo and DeRozan to take until they are allowed to move on to the NBA. That type of individual play leads to turnovers (conference high 16.8 per game), and will ultimately cost them games against teams with better chemistry. It’s Floyd’s job to counter that, and I don’t believe he’s capable of it – after all, it was his recruiting that built that scenario.

 

So now we’re down to Arizona State and CAL. An easy pick if you listen to the media, right? Wrong. Take a look at both teams stats. Statistically they are almost identical with the majority of their scoring coming from four players, and fewer than 5 point per game from the rest. The largest separation between the two teams, statistically, is opponents points per game. CAL is giving up 64.3 while ASU is only 58. So who do you take? I go with CAL.

First while Arizona State has gotten additional help from Rihards Kuksiks, who has doubled his ppg production from a year ago up to 10.8 points per game, they still don’t get consistent production from anyone except James Harden, and that’s a problem. Arizona State is only as good as Harden performs within his team. Want proof? Look no further than the IUPUI and BYU games. Against IUPUI he didn’t show up and was too busy talking with Amare Stoudemire behind the ASU bench to care. He tallied 9 points and ASU got lucky with a one-point win. The other problem is if he becomes selfish against a good team. Harden dropped 30 on a good BYU team, but ASU struggled to a controversial win – another one point margin. Harden can carry the Sun Devils far, but when teams like UCLA make him the defensive focal point as they did last year, Harden becomes ineffective as a team player and ASU struggles. If the Sun Devils  want to be best out of this group it’s going to take a team effort and more than the Harden/Jeff Pendergraph combo to do it

Once again, it comes down to team chemistry and how well they play as a collective unit and how much faith I have in the coach. This CAL team has had the most talent in the conference, outside of UCLA, for the past couple of years, but hasn’t been able to capitalize on it under Ben Braun. With the hiring of Mike Montgomery this team almost instantly became better. Montgomery has these kids playing hard, shooting well, and playing as a team.  CAL is getting great production from all over the court. They have the size to compete with Brockman & Washington, and the guards to compete with anybody in the conference. That’s why I have CAL ahead of USC, ahead of ASU, but just barely. 

So when it comes to contenders and pretenders it is pretty clear. Stanford and the schools from Oregon and Washington are pretenders who will make their way to a first round exit from the PAC-10 Tournament and perhaps an NIT invite. Leaving the PAC-10 crown to be contested by the LA area schools, the Arizona schools, and CAL.

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