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Posts Tagged ‘Rihards Kuksiks’

The Rivalry: Part II

Posted by naterb on February 21, 2009

When Arizona and Arizona State met up one month ago, the game ended in one of the most controversial calls we’ve seen in this rivalry in some time. While the call ultimately sealed the deal for the Sun Devils, to claim that it cost the ‘Cats the game would be pushing it too far. The Wildcats were plagued by simple, yet costly mistakes that set them in the position for a whistle to be capable of determining so much in the game. Frankly, if the Wildcats deserved to win that game they wouldn’t have been in that position.

 

Ironically, that is the last time the Wildcats have found themselves in such a position this season. During the past seven games the Wildcats have outscored their opponents by 8.2 points per game, and have eclipsed an average of 82.6 points during that time. They have also found themselves on the right end of the turnover battle while forcing opponents into 15.4 per game while committing 14.6 themselves.

 

If that’s not enough, it appears as though the Big Three are finally living up to their bidding with all three averaging between 19-21 points per game. But that’s not been all their scoring. They’ve seen significant impact from Kyle Fogg and Zane Johnson on both ends of the court. This team has been clicking on all cylinders the past seven games and look to continue when they travel to Tempe today to face the Sun Devils.

 

ASU has been on a bit of a tear themselves, with an active 4-game winning streak under their belts the Sun Devils have seen continued dominance from Harden and Pendergraph, and have been getting some big games from Derek Glasser and Rihards Kuksiks.

 

The keys to the game are the same as the last time out, but it can all be summarized to say that they simply need to avoid the simple mistakes that cost them just a few short weeks ago. The Sun Devils are fighting for a better seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the ‘Cats are fighting to secure their ticket. Both teams are within reach of the PAC-10 conference lead, and face the top-ranked Washington Huskies next week. Things are getting interesting in the conference, and this game is going to have hefty consequences for both teams.

 

Keys to the Game

Harden Up: James Harden is the driving force for the Sun Devils, if you can contain or limit his play-making ability you disable ASU’s offense. Arizona doesn’t have a defender capable of face guarding him and shutting him down the way that Tim Floyd and USC did, but they should be able to slow him down.

Win the Blocks: The inside battle will be key. Neither team has much (if any) quality depth in the frontcourt. So a lot of the rebounding responsibilities fall on the guards, and the Wildcats have to be ready to box out. They’ll also need to make it a pointed effort to get Jordan Hill active and involved early in the game.

Stick ‘em Up: The Wildcats need to get their hands up on shooters, especially Kuksiks outside the 3-point line. ASU doesn’t have many players that can create their own shot, so rotating in the zone and getting a hand in the Sun Devils’ faces will be crucial. If Arizona wants to pull out the home win, they’ll need to limit the number of open looks they give the Sun Devils.

Protect the Ball: The Sun Devils have the 2nd lowest turnover average in the conference with 12.4 per game (Arizona has 12.5) to go along with 6.6 steals. In each of their losses this season the Wildcats have turned the ball over more than their opponent and been outscored in points-off-turnovers by a significant amount.

 

For more on this rivalry, see my previous post with individual position break-downs.

http://sportscapsule.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/the-rivalry/

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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: 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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