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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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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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Game Preview: Arizona @ CAL

Posted by naterb on January 2, 2009

Warning: Today’s game against CAL will have enough history, drama, anticipation and anxiety that drinking super-caffeinated beverage that you are currently holding to your lips must be considered dangerous to your health. The Surgeon General has issued no such warnings, but trust me when I tell you that combining the two will be hazardous to your health. Side effects may include:

  • Mental breakdowns
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Heart attacks
  • The uncontrollable urge to jump out of your over-used recliner every time Arizona makes a basket in the final five minutes causing panic and fear for others within hearing distance.
     

Entering conference play the Wildcats have shown tremendous growth and player development during their OOC (out of conference) games. We’ve seen from nauseating plays to marvelous performances, and heart-breaking losses to spectacular victories. More importantly we’ve seen the transformation of Kyle Fogg and Jamelle Horne into impact players. But there is still a laundry list of unanswered questions and hurdles that still loom in the path of the ‘Cats. The only thing that is certain about Arizona’s Conference Opener against CAL is that they will have their first opportunity to provide answers to the questions.

The first question that Arizona needs an answer to is can they win on the road? In an uncharacteristic OOC schedule the Wildcats found themselves at on the road for only two of their nine games. With few opportunities to win on the road, and both occasions producing a loss, the ‘Cats have already been dubbed a team that can’t win on the road.

I don’t believe this is the case. Both losses came against more experienced teams in Texas A&M and UNLV. The fact that Arizona jumped out to an early lead and led until the final 30 seconds of the game is an indication that they weren’t playing scared, but fell victim to a more experienced squad on the road. During the second road trip to UNLV the found themselves pitted up against the toughest defensive team they’ve faced this year – and the Rebels just happened to be having their break out game this year. Neither of those situations are easy ways to pick up a road win. Because of that, I believe that the lack of a road win for this squad has more to do with limited opportunity and not capability.

Despite the fact that Arizona has dominated this conference match-up recently, with a 16-2 record since 2001, winning at Haas Pavilion will not be an easy task. While it is important to note that both of the losses came on the road at Haas Pavilion and CAL is 8-0 at home this season, there are bigger obstacles and facets to this game that trouble me. That leads me to the next question that Arizona has to find an answer for. Can Arizona’s defense step up and shut down  the prolific 3-point shooting of the Gold Bears?

For the season as a whole, Arizona has defended the perimeter very well by limiting opponents to 33.5% from beyond the arc. But in their three losses Arizona has allowed average 3-point shooting teams to hit marks of 43.3% (UAB), 45% (TxA&M), and 45.2% (UNLV). Not a single team averages above 35% on the season from beyond the arc. Defending the perimeter against CAL is a much more daunting task. The Golden Bears lead the nation in three-point percentage with an amazing 50.6% from beyond the arc. Arizona is going to have to step out on Jerome Randle (32-57), Theo Robertson (24-39), and Patrick Christopher (13-36).

My third question I mentioned in my entry “Shooting Problems & Muscle Strains.” This is a three-part question. First, can Chase Budinger break out of his recent shooting funk, or will he return to his previously lethargic shooting performances from his freshman and sophomore years? Secondly, will Jordan Hill’s leg be healed enough for him to suit up? If you haven’t realized how important Hill’s floor presence is to this team, suffice it to say he is the key that unlocks the offense and deadbolts the defense. Finally, if either of the questions are answered “no” then can the rest of the ‘Cats step up enough to get the win? Recently, the ‘Cats have seen amazing decision making by Nic Wise whose play has been drastically better since the loss at UNLV. More importantly, we’ve seen Jamelle Horne and Kyle Fogg blossom into impact players for this team. If Budinger or Hill are incapable of overcoming their problems, all three of these players will need to step up in a big way.

A Few Twists:

As I stated before, CAL is the best three-point shooting team in the nation. What I didn’t mention is that Arizona is the second-best three-point shooting team that drops them in at a clip of 43.5 percent. If that doesn’t heighten the importance for both teams perimeter defense, perhaps this will: On the season CAL has been limiting opponents to 32.1% from beyond  the arc, but in their two losses they allowed Florida State to shoot 41% and Missouri to shoot 46.2%.

The return of Mike Montgomery on the opposing bench is what has my interest piqued the most. Remember, the last time Arizona faced a Montgomery-led team was February 7, 2004. The #12 Wildcats traveled to Maples Pavilion in to face the second-ranked Cardinal. My narration can’t do justice to this so click play on the video below and you’ll see one heck of an ending.

Not only do I find it interesting that the last time Arizona faced off against Montgomery was on the road in the Bay Area against an evenly matched opponent, but I’m anticipating this to be the first thriller of many thrillers to come in this series.

Breaking Down CAL:

Team MVP: Jerome Randle – 19.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 56% 3-pt
Other CAL features:
Theo Robertson 12.1 ppg, 61.5% 3-pt shooter
Patrick Christopher 14.0 ppg, 36.1 3-pt shooter
Jamal Boykin 9.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg
Everyone else: 17.6 ppg, 14.5 rpg

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