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Pregame: Arizona @ Oregon

Posted by naterb on February 6, 2009

On Saturday night the ‘Cats hope to keep their Tournament hopes alive while the Ducks are looking to save a little dignity.

On Saturday night the ‘Cats look to keep their Tournament hopes alive while the Ducks are looking to save a little dignity.

Both the Wildcats and the Ducks will enter into Saturday’s game hoping to salvage something of their season. The Wildcats have been getting themselves back into legitimate NCAA Tournament talks again, but a loss to Oregon would almost certainly be a knock-out blow for the ‘Cats. Meanwhile, the Ducks have been horrendous in conference play this season and are looking to salvage at least their dignity during the second-half of conference play. Can the ‘Cats avoid the knock-out blow and stretch Oregon’s losing skid to 11 with their second true road win of the year? Read the rest of this entry »

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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 – Week 2

Posted by naterb on January 12, 2009

pac10-power-rankings

1. UCLA (E)
UCLA has shown great guard play and have maintained the top position despite the drop-off in talent from the previous few years. They’re aren’t a lock for the conference title by any stretch, even if the conference is weaker this year.
Last Week: W. @ USC 64-60

2. California (E)
Randle and Christopher have been sensational. They even got some help from Robertson this week too. Winning a close game on the road is a solid way to boost your confidence. Watch out UCLA, CAL just might have the best backcourt in the conference.
Last Week: W @ WSU 57-50, W @ UW 88-85 (OT)

3. Arizona State (E)
ASU remains solid at home, and put on a defensive clinic against Oregon State. We’ll see how good they really are when they travel to Pauley on Thursday.
Last Week: W vs. OSU 69-38, W v. OU 76-58

4. Washington (E)
Washington got a monster week from Jon Brockman and Isaiah Thomas this week. Can’t fault them for a 3-point OT loss to the hottest team in the conference right now.
Last Week: W. vs. STAN 84-83, L vs. CAL 88-85 (OT)

5. Arizona (+2)
The Big Three are starting to show the minutes they’ve played and it’s resulting in a slump passing from player to player. Zane Johnson has stepped up and could earn himself a starting role in the next few weeks.
Last Week: W vs. OU 67-52, W vs. OSU 64-47

6. USC (E)
The Trojans are lacking a lot of chemistry and are paying the price in close games. A close loss to UCLA isn’t a big deal, but they lack too much chemistry to be considered a serious contender at this point.
Last Week: L vs. UCLA 64-60

7. Washington State (+2)
Rochestie stepped up big for the Cougars this week, and were fortunate not to be 0-3 to start conference play before finally hitting the road next week.
Last Week: L vs. Cal 50-57, W vs. Stan 55-54

8. Stanford (-3)
A pair of 1 point losses is tough. Their guards can’t carry them much longer.
Last Week: L @ UW 83-84, L  @ WSU 55-54

9. Oregon State (-1)
They got man-handled by ASU & UofA this week, but they are organized and playing hard. That Princeton offense keeps them closer than they probably should be.
Last Week: L @ ASU 69-38, L @ UA 64-47

10. Oregon (E)
If inexperience is bad, then these guys are awful. Catron and Porter were nowhere this past week. Is the team giving up on Ernie Kent?
Last Week: L @ UA 67-52, L @ ASU 76-58

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Oregon's Inexperience Leads to Cats Win

Posted by naterb on January 9, 2009

 

 

Budinger dunks over Michael Dunigan

Budinger dunks over Michael Dunigan

Michael Dunigan turning his back on Chase Budinger during a first-half in-bound play is the epitome of what is wrong with the Ducks this season. The Ducks aren’t a bad team with players who have no business competing in the PAC-10. By-and-large, however, they are a team filled with young players who have been thrust into key roles too early in their college careers. The Wildcats exploited this and despite their less-than-stellar performance rode it on their way to a 67-52 route of the Ducks at McKale Center.

The Good:

Russ Pennell and the Wildcats did a nice job of getting Chase Budinger good looks at the basket by having him along the baseline and making strong cuts towards the basket. The result was several dunks, lay-ups, and short-ranged jumpers. Budinger was also found in transition on numerous occasions. I’m not ready to declare Budinger out of his slump as of yet, especially in light of his 1-5 shooting from beyond the arc, but the quality looks he got against the Ducks is a great way to help him find his rhythm again. The mental lapses by Budinger, as well as the over-flow mentality onto the rest of the team seems to have dissipated as the ‘Cats regained some of that swagger and confidence back throughout the game.

The biggest indicator of the teams reaction to Budinger starting to come out of his slump is Jamelle Horne. Following one of his worst performance of the year (2 points, 5 fouls, 19 minutes), Horne returned to progressing as an offensive weapon and impact player with 15 points and 4 rebounds while playing 36 minutes. I believe the reason for this is because Horne was playing within himself and making good decisions rather than trying to do too much to compensate for Budinger’s slump.

A few other things I was impressed with was Arizona’s ability to counter the tempo and defensive changes that Ernie Kent and the Ducks threw at the ‘Cats. There were a few lapses and mistakes caused by these changes, but on the whole the Wildcats did a nice job of transitioning from one look to another. I was also impressed with Zane Johnson’s first-half performance off the bench. Johnson, who has seen inconsistent minutes for the ‘Cats, came in and grabbed 2 rebounds while posting 7 points over a stretch when the ‘Cats had begun to stagnate. With some more experience and progression I can see Johnson turning into a great role player like Michael Roll for UCLA.

The Bad:

Jordan Hill did not record a double-double since December 14th against Gonzaga. Considering the defensive efforts of the Ducks and Michael Dunigan, I can’t blame Hill on this. Hill still had a solid game with 9 points and 12 rebounds, but expect more defensive focus on Jordan Hill for the rest of the season. The reason Hill’s failure to reach a double-double lands in the “Bad” category has nothing to do with the effort he made – after all he didn’t hurt the team by finding himself in foul trouble or missing open looks. The problem I have is that when teams focus on Hill defensively, the Cats need to run some set plays to get Hill the ball deep in the paint where even the best center in the nation can’t stop him.

Kyle Fogg’s performance, however, is a result of his own doing. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not down on the kid, he had an off game which is to be expected from a freshman responsible for a big role. Fogg had several mental lapses leading to turnovers or fouls and failed to become an offensive threat against the Ducks.

The Ugly:

Nic Wise tops the charts of the ugly factor. The Wildcats were less than stellar in protecting the ball, and Wise was the core reason for this. Wise had 7 of Arizona’s 17 turnovers, and many of them were due to over-penetration and offensive fouls. Wise was also caught off guard by in-prompt-to traps across half court by the Ducks. As a veteran point guard, Wise needs to be prepared for these types of traps and be ready to hit the open man as he sees the trap coming at him. With such a sloppy performance by Wise, Arizona was fortunate that they weren’t facing a team clicking on all cylinders.

In conjunction with Wise’s 7 turnovers, the Wildcats committed 17 team turnovers. The Wildcats were fortunate that the Ducks weren’t able to capitalize on the turnovers the way that CAL or Stanford did. But the turnover situation has to be a major concern for the coaching staff. Since the Kansas game the Wildcats have seen their turnover rate rising as they’ve averaged 15.25 turnovers a game and have committed more turnovers than their opponent in the previous 3 games.

Back to the Ducks:

I was very impressed with the talent and glimpses of what the future holds for the Ducks. There were several points where the Ducks upped the defensive pressure resulting in nine steals and a few second-half mini-runs. A big concern for the Ducks has to be Tejuan Porter. Porter needs to be the leader on this team since Catron is completely unproven, but Porter is extremely inconsistent from game-to-game. With Porter being a focal point for the Ducks offense, they will see erratic scoring and inconsistent play from the entire team until he plays with consistency or another player steps up as the leader.

Despite foul trouble thanks to freshmen inexperience, Dunigan has the looks of a future stud for the Ducks. Ernie Kent would be wise to recruit complimentary players to Dunigan’s game as he will be one of the leading centers in the PAC-10 after the departures of Jordan Hill and Jon Brockman.

Game Highlights Video (Including the inbound play where Dunigan turns his back on Budinger)

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Game Preview: Oregon @ Arizona

Posted by naterb on January 8, 2009

It’s a fight for survival as both the Wildcats and the Ducks enter tonight’s game at McKale Center 0-2 in conference play. The Wildcats are favored by 11 over the 6-8 Ducks, but don’t let that deceive you. The Ducks are perfectly capable of stealing a road win in Tucson – especially if they’re clicking on all cylinders. With the rigorous schedule the Ducks have faced and the inexperience at nearly every position, the Ducks 6-8 record is understandable. But with the #8 schedule in the nation, it figures that the Ducks should have learned a lot during the off-season and could be ready to have it all come together.

Freshman Michael Dunigan is a beast on the low blocks for the Ducks – giving them their first true threat in the paint since A.D. Smith in 2000. Dunigan is currently averaging a modest 10.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. But anybody that is capable of throwing down 18 points and 7 rebounds against “Psycho T” (Tyler Hansborough) and UNC is a threat that must be given a healthy dose of respect.

Another sign that Oregon is finally putting it together is wingman LeKendric Longmire. During the final five non-conference games Longmire averages 12.8 points a game while shooting 58%.

Unfortunately, with the exception of erratic Tejuan Porter, scoring has never been the major issue. The Ducks have struggled mightily on the defensive end for the past few seasons and are currently allowing a conference worst 77.4 points per game, allowing opponents to shoot nearly 50% from the field and being out-rebounded by nearly 7 a game.

Keys to the Game:

  • Get Fired Up: This is a must win for the Wildcats after going 0-2 in the Bay Area. If they fall to 0-3 the chances of them making the NCAA Tournament go out the window. Their post-season is on the line, and they better play like it from start to finish.
    Projected Need: Score 15 points in the first 7 minutes.
  • All About the Little Things (I): The Wildcats have been terrible about getting after the little things. Securing the defensive rebounds (especially on the long-3), hustling for loose balls, making the extra pass, coming hard off screens, protecting the ball, etc.
    Projected Needs: Out-rebound the Ducks by 7. Have a T/O differential of -4.
  • All About the Little Things (II): Nic Wise and Tejuan Porter measure in under 6’ but both have the capability of getting to the rim or shooting the three. The momentum and course of this game will hinge on this match-up of undersized guards.
    Projected Needs: Wise 14 points, 6 assists, <2 turnovers
  • Michael/Jordan: Michael Dunigan and Jordan Hill is the second match-up to keep an eye on. Hill has the experience and is a better player, but at 250 lbs. Dunigan has the size to push Hill off the block a bit. Hill needs to take it to Dunigan early and often.
    Projected Needs: Hill – 18 points, 12 rebounds, Dunigan – Fewer than 14 points, 7 rebounds
  • Knew this was coming: Chase Budinger needs to find his rhythm again, and he needs Pennell’s help. Pennell should run some early set plays to get Budinger some good looks at the hoop or draw a foul and get to the free throw line. I can’t think of a more opportune time for Budinger to come out of his slump than against a team allowing nearly 50% from the field.
    Projected Needs: Budinger 40% from the field, 8 first-half points, 8 free throw attempts, 14 points

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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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