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Future of the Program: Part II

Posted by naterb on February 12, 2009

Recruiting

 

Despite the fact that Arizona is currently on a 5-game winning streak, I’m still taking a break from focusing on the current season to looking ahead to the intriguing possibilities that will play out during the off-season. Last week I talked about the fact that whoever Olson’s successor is, they will need to possess a program first mentality. Otherwise more than just the style of play will be transformed at Arizona.

 

 Under Lute Olson, the program has been a family organization with the focus on the players’ development and the program’s success. Olson avoided recruiting players who were out to serve their own needs, and who were going along with their own agenda before the programs. The result has been a classy program that has thrived at the top of the conference for nearly 25 years thanks to Olson’s savvy recruiting combined with only taking players who are there to play for the program.

 

If a coach fails to integrate the “team first” mentality into his recruiting, I fear that Arizona will no longer be the dominant program it has been, but will transform into an average program similar to ASU or USC. A program with more average years than down years, and more down years than great years. For that reason, I believe the second most important facet of a new coach will be their recruiting.

 

How and who the new coach recruits will be an early indicator about the long-term outlook for the program. When a coach strictly focuses on recruiting the top tier prospects, the program becomes a mere stepping stone for the NBA – as USC has become. The play of these top-tier recruits almost ensures that the team will be competitive within their conference, and perhaps even on a national level, but landing a top tier recruit and building a team around them year-in and year-out is a sure ticket towards inconsistency.

 

That isn’t to say that signing the big-name recruit doesn’t have its place – they certainly have their impact and place within the scheme of the program. Afterall, if a coach strictly recruited mid-level prospects, they would find themselves in a position like Washington State – too heavily reliant upon exploiting opponents’ mistakes. 

 

Successful recruiting is a mix of mid-level talent and top-tier prospects.

Successful recruiting is a mix of mid-level talent and top-tier prospects.

Clearly the better recruiters in the nation have found a solid mix of top-tier and middle-tier players which has led to perpetual success with no “rebuilding” years like the one Oregon is currently suffering through. This mix of mid-level and top tier recruits is an absolute must-have to building a consistent, competitive team – a tradition at Arizona that I hope to see continued. Finding the appropriate mix has more to do with the needs of the team and the personality of the players than it does how many of the top tier vs. middle-tier players which are recruited.

 

 

 

I, for one, firmly believe that the most vital aspect of recruiting is finding the mid-level players with a lot of potential or that have been undervalued. Some of the more notable players at Arizona – Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Gilbert Arenas, and Jordan Hill – have come from this group of prospects. There have also been solid role players – A.J. Bramlett, Bennett Davison to name two of the more prominent ones – that simply got the job done and made an impact for the team.

 

By focusing on these mid-level prospects the coach will have recruited at the worst a solid bench and group of role players, and at the best a few surprise players who develop into future stars. Best-case scenario and worst-case scenario aside one thing is certain, drawing out the best talent in the middle tier of prospects while signing a top tier recruit or two every few years will lead to consistency within the program.

 

In direct regards to the situation at Arizona, the right coach will be capable of staving off a rebuilding effort and accomplish a transition period instead. With a rebuilding effort the entire program will essentially be scrapped and in the basement before it is restored. Considering Arizona’s consecutive NCAA Tournament streak is still active, the ’08-’09 ‘Cats are making a strong second half push, and Arizona has some surprise players, I don’t think this will be the route we take. A transition, will simply change the style and pinache’ of the team. There will be a down year or two as the new coach recruits the players to fit their game plan and builds the new traditions, but it will be more about building upon than rebuilding. 

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Simple Mistakes Costing 'Cats

Posted by naterb on January 22, 2009

A frustrated Russ Pennell during the Arizona/Arizona State game. Picture from azcentral.com

A frustrated Russ Pennell during the Arizona/Arizona State game. Picture from azcentral.com

The lights just got a lot dimmer for the Arizona Wildcats tonight as they notched their 8th loss in their first 19 games. The 11-8 mark that the ‘Cats will go to bed with tonight is their worst record after 19 games since Lute Olson’s first year at Arizona when they were 5-14. Not only is the low mark disappointing, but the Wildcats must now win 9 of their remaining 12 games to reach the magical 20th win that is considered the cost of an NCAA Tournament Ticket. Despite being feasible, that is no small task by any standards and will likely end up with their dancing shoes having NIT written on the label rather than NCAA for the first time in 24 years.

The Wildcats have lost three straight games, as well as losses to the four teams in the top half of the conference they have faced. That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially considering how hard they’ve played only to have a questionable whistle play a deciding factor in their last two losses – against USC and last night against ASU. From an offensive standpoint, the Arizona State game was simply ugly. Too many turnovers, poor shooting, missed lay-ups, the whole-nine-yards. But for as bad as the Wildcats were offensively, the Sun Devils were right there with them. Read the rest of this entry »

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PAC-10 Picks: Week 4

Posted by naterb on January 21, 2009

For Current Standings check out the Pick ‘Em Page. Otherwise, let’s just get down to it, shall we?

NaterB’s Picks:

  1. Arizona over Arizona State – You should’ve read my preview by now giving the breakdown of the teams. I think Arizona needs this one too badly, and Hill poses to big of an inside advantage to stop. Arizona pulls out the home win – but not by much.
  2. UCLA over Washington State- Without Cowgill and Weaver this matchup doesn’t possess the intrigue it did the last two years. UCLA skates to an easy win.
  3. Stanford over Oregon- Oregon is too inexperienced and too unorganized to get their first PAC-10 win at Maples.
  4. CAL over Oregon State- Cal is experienced enough and are very well coached so the slow-down style of Oregon State won’t bother them much.
  5. USC over Washington- Washington has had an easy go of the conference so far. Things are about to get a lot tougher.
  6. UCLA over Washington- Getting swept at home hurts, but I can’t help but seeing it this week. Their best chance for a “W” is on Thursday against USC.
  7. Washington State over USC- This is my “upset” pick for the week. I don’t think USC is capable of handling a team that slows the game down like OSU and WSU.
  8. CAL over Oregon – This could be a fun game to watch – although it won’t be close. Both teams like to shoot the 3-ball. Oregon just isn’t as good or organized. Is Kent’s time drawing to an end in Eugene?
  9. Stanford over Oregon State- I already picked one upset this week, I’m not daring enough to go for two. Stanford at home is a tough win and will be too much for OSU – but I think it could get interesting.

The Others: (Remember the numbers represent the number of participants that picked each school)

Arizona State @ Arizona
Arizona State 4, Arizona 7

UCLA @ Washington State
UCLA 11, Washington State 0

Oregon @ Stanford
Oregon 2, Stanford 9

Oregon State @ CAL
Oregon State 0, CAL 11

USC @ Washington
USC 4, Washington 7

UCLA @ Washington
UCLA 9, Washington 2

USC @ Washington State
USC 10, Washington State 1

Oregon @ CAL
Oregon 0, CAL 11

Oregon State @ Stanford
Oregon State 0, Stanford 11

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Must Win Situation

Posted by naterb on January 17, 2009

Disclaimer: You may not like some of the parallels that I claim in the first two paragraphs. It sounds as if I’m really down on the ‘Cats right now. I’m not, and you’ll catch up with my thinking around the end of the second paragraph. So just strap in and grit out the Greg Hansen-esque comments for the time being.

Arizona and Oregon can both be trademarked with the same label this season – inconsistent. With young teams and inexperienced freshmen taking on major roles for a team, that is something that can be expected. You can argue all you want that Arizona has more realized talent than Oregon does, or that Oregon has more potential talent in their young players. You won’t get an argument out of me on either point, but to say that one team is better because of it is quite narrow-sighted. Yes, I did say it. Arizona is in the same boat as the #10 team according to my power rankings right now. That’s because both teams have struggled mightily with consistency because of inexperience.

The Wildcats are in a better position to turn it around this season because of their realized talent. But unless they manage to pull out a nice winning streak down the home stretch they may as well have finished 0-18 in the conference this season. I feel this dramatically about the ‘Cats situation because if you think this season was bumpy just wait until the rebuilding begins. Arizona is currently holding on to their NCAA Tournament hopes with a two-finger grip right now and without that bid this season will be a huge disappointment.

The Wildcats have two future NBA players, one a solid lottery pick the other needs to step up his performance to get back there, and are playing in a weakened conference with an easier SOS than in previous years. If they don’t make the NCAA Tournament I believe this team will have underachieved – freshmen and all.

 

What’s perhaps the most disappointing is the work that Russ Pennell & Co. have put into this team. They aren’t the greatest coaches in the world, and they’ve had their struggles. No one is arguing that. But they have done a fantastic job with this team considering the circumstances they have been handed. In an e-mail I received from Pennell last week he made me respect him as a person and a coach even more – even if the results aren’t what we as fans would want.

“I have enjoyed the tough challenge and hope to continue to lead in a positive way until my time here is finished. My main goal for all these players is to improve their overall skills and understanding of basketball. We may only have them for a little while, but we work with them like they are ours for years to come. I believe that is why they improve, because they know we care about them on and off the court. As a coach, you are a teacher and you want to influence those around you daily. Hopefully, we are living up to those standards.” – Russ Pennell

For me, that was more important in my analysis of an interim coach than his abilities with x’s and o’s. It shows class and a determination to do the job that is set out before him regardless of the circumstances. Pennell is taking this job personally, and seriously, and success is measured beyond wins and losses.

Unfortunately, this type of character doesn’t earn you an NCAA Tournament bid. X’s and O’s do that for you. So, the ‘Cats have found themselves with their backs to the wall and needing to scratch together a solid rest of the season. The must-win games started a few weeks ago, but with three losses in their past five games, and no true road wins – the ‘Cats absolutely must win tonight against USC.

With a loss, Arizona would be 11-7 overall with only 13 remaining games. That means Arizona would need to finish 9-4 the rest of the way out to reach the 20 that is considered to get you a dancing ticket. But even if Arizona is capable of finishing 20-11, they’ll need some additional signature wins to separate themselves from other teams vying for the same spot in the tournament. Those wins would need to be over USC, Washington twice, Arizona State at least once, and a win over CAL or UCLA at home.

The other problem that Arizona would face is a road loss today would put them 0-6 on the road with only five remaining road games. Of those road games there is only one chance for a noteworthy road win, which would be Arizona State in Tempe on Wednesday. At some point Arizona needs to prove they can win on the road against good competition.

So make no mistake about it, if Arizona doesn’t win against USC and put together a nice streak the rest of the way, it won’t make any difference if Jordan Hill is a lottery pick. We’ll be in the same spot as Oregon – without a dance ticket come march. A loss puts the Wildcats 3.5 games out of first place in the conference, and either 1.5 (with an ASU loss) or 2.5 (with an ASU win) games out of fourth place. Remember, most ‘experts’ and self-proclaimed ‘experts’ believe that only four PAC-10 teams make the tournament. So if Arizona is going to make it, they need to not only win, but they need to set themselves apart from ASU, USC, and Washington. That starts with winning tonight at the Galen Center.

Buzzer Beater Thought:

“That’s one of the things I want this team to understand: We’re not playing our best basketball now but that doesn’t mean we can’t at some point.” – Russ Pennell

And that point better be sooner, rather than later.

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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.

 

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, Game Preview, NCAA Basketball, PAC-10 Basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, Game Preview, NCAA Basketball, PAC-10 Basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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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