The Week That Was
Pac-10 breakdown, Butler’s comeup and Memphis’ win streak.
Things might be a bit abridged today. In preparation for the NCAA Tournament, the focus at Cub Scouts: The Week that Was has shifted a bit. Last week, I broke down the Mountain West Conference (BYU was the big winner last week, winning on the road at San Diego St. and at home against arch-rival, Utah) and in this installment, we will stay with the western theme, by examining the top teams in the Pac-10. The past two weeks has seen some “adjusting” in the league, but there is more that can still shake down in the 12 days that precede Selection Sunday.
HEADLINE: The Washingtons or the Arizonas?
This week was a big one for the Apple State as they were rude hosts to the teams from Arizona. Those firmly entrenched on top are locks for bids, but the last couple games will be big for a select few.
Washington (22-7, 13-4) LOCK
With their comeback, last-minute win this weekend over Arizona, the Huskies have secured the regular-season title. This team, with a solid mix of youth and experience, should be able to grab a No. 3-5 seed for the Big Dance. We might get a sneak-peek on whether the Huskies can progress past the first weekend, by how they perform at the neutral-sited, conference tournament. Not much can be gleaned by their “thin” out-of-conference schedule which contained no real quality wins away from the Emerald City.
UCLA (22-7, 11-5) LOCK
Ben Howland’s Bruins are in a similar spot as they lost their only real road tests early on (when they were mysteriously ranked in the top-five, nationally) at Texas and in New York City against Michigan. While this year’s installment surely cannot hope to continue the three-straight Final Four appearances, I would not be surprised to see them take a mid seed (4-6) and make a little run into the second weekend. That type of prediction though might be more about respect for Coach Howland, than being impressed with the Bruins’ body of work this season.
Arizona State (21-7, 10-6) LOCK
The Sun Devils are a team I have been unable to truly assess this year. One minute I am outwardly impressed, they invariably stink up the gym. The next minute, I want to write them off, they play a streak of beautiful basketball. Although, not a fan of Coach Herb Sendek’ slow-down system, I can admit that their attention to defense and detail just might be the key for ASU to have postseason success. That, and if James Harden can force his (down-low) will on their eventual opponents. A neutral-site loss against Baylor and a last-second victory over BYU (although, hardly “neutral” by being played up the road in Glendale) gives a mixed-bag of results.
California (21-8, 10-6) LOCK (with decent finish)
I can admit to be as clueless about the Golden Bears as I am about any other team in this league. While I have only seen them a few times this year, they do have some nice “notches on their bed post” and junior Jerome Randle is maybe the least known elite point guards in the nation. The Golden Bears’ out-of-conference schedule has mixed results, but at least there is a decent sample size. Road wins over MWC-bigs, Utah and UNLV and a twenty-point home-drubbing of Portland are impressive and a three-point loss in Vegas to the tournament-bound Florida St. Seminoles isn’t that damaging. The one red-flag is a 27-point loss at Missouri, but one bad night shouldn’t keep Mike Montgomery’s crew from threatening each of their postseason opponents.
Arizona (18-11, 8-8) TENTATIVE
Three straight losses have the Wildcats on the verge of missing their first NCAA Tournament since the Reagan administration. Luckily for the Tucson locals, the last two regular season games will be at McKale with the NoCal teams (CAL/Stanford) making a trip south. If U of A is able to get both of these games, they should feel more than comfortable that their amazing streak will live on. I have made no bones about my affection for this team (despite the weird coaching situation) and if they are able to go “dancing” again, their three-headed monster fits the bill for a team that could either lose in the first-round or make a play for, dare I say, (throat clear) the Final Four?
The remainder of the teams fall into the “have to win the PAC-10 tournament” category. Another coach that has long held the affection of Cub Scouts, is Washington State’s Tony Bennett. NBA fans should now be more than familiar with Kyle Weaver, who has been a major loss from last year’s extremely successful Cougar team. However, the young guys are rounding into form, have won three in a row and senior Taylor Rochestie has become Kirk Heinrich, suddenly. The 16-13 Cougs appear to be the only team that has the potential to unseed one of the aforementioned leaders and steal the automatic bid. While the mass exodus of NBA draftees last year has surely thinned the “title-contending” status of this league, there are still several teams that can make some noise.
TEAMS OF THE WEEK: Didn’t We Just See These Two?
Kansas — With just a two-point defeat @ Mizzou (which was properly avenged on Sunday with a 25-point boat-race at Allen) the ultra-young Jayhawks have won five in a row and might be playing better than any other team in the nation. They played an extremely competitive out-of-conference schedule and despite some losses, they were able to beat Washington (a more experienced, veteran-team) by 18 down the road in Kansas City and beat tournament-bound teams Siena and Tennessee, as well. Led by their only real non-freshmen, Bill Self must be given credit for the job he has done replacing five players that were drafted last year.
Memphis — Oddly enough, the Jayhawks’ opponent in last year’s title game is also playing at an extremely high level at the right time. Granted many of the Memphis’ recent opponents in their 20-game streak dwell in Conference-USA, but they were able to squeeze in late-season road wins against Tennessee and Gonzaga. Yes, John Calipari’s team is younger than last year’s, so maybe their inability to defeat a quality opponent before the New Year might have been a “smoke-screen.” For the record, Georgetown, Xavier and Syracuse bested the 26-3 Tigers.
Honorable Mention: Rhode Island, Niagara, BYU, and College of Charleston
SCOUTING CORNER: Guess Who?
This player brings the complete package in a combination-guard. He is an above-average shooter from long-range, and can be downright streaky and lethal at times. Playing alongside a senior point leader has allowed the junior to develop the other areas of his game. Despite not having great quickness, his anticipation and on-court IQ make him a serviceable defender who makes plays with his hands. Defense, however, is still the area that needs the most work, as our subject’s foot quickness isn’t great on that end of the court. He is able, though, to get into the lane on offense with relative ease and has a point-guard’s mentality to set-up his teammates. His ball-handling is not up to spot against the nation’s elite point guards, but his height, weight and strength will allow him the ability to play at the next level.
This player understands the flow of games and never pushes the issue with his offensive game. Against a smaller opponent (which is still possible at the next level) this guy knows to go right to the block to score using his nice set of post-up moves while always having his head up looking for open teammates.
He has the shooting ability and ball-handling skills to ultimately handle either guard positions, but it is the intangibles that make him so valuable. I agree with most scouts that he isn’t quite ready, but after this year and the next, he should put himself into the position to be an NBA-ready two-guard and quite possibly a point-guard prospect. That, and he might take home a Conference Player of the Year award, for his troubles. If he does declare after this season, I can’t see his value at anything but the second-round. He could be a mid-to-late first-rounder, though, if he stays for his senior year and proves his worth.
PLAYER ALERT: Don’t Be Fooled
For the past decade or so, the Butler Bulldogs have not only become a nationally relevant program, but their success has allowed those outside of “Naptown” to see a few games from the hallowed halls of Hinkle Field House. This year’s team is led by some young players, including sophomore forward Matt Howard and freshman point guard Shelvin Mack, but in the past weeks another first-year player has caught my attention–the 6-8, 200-pound wing Gordon Hayward. Blessed with a solid grasp of the game, above average athleticism, and a dead eye shot from long-range, Hayward is a tough guard for a player of any ability. Field goal percentages of 49 percent fg/45 percent 3pt/83 percent Ft and averages of 14/6/2 speak not only to his efficiency but his patience within Coach Brad Steven’s system, as well. After arguably his worst game of the year (a bad loss at UW-Milwaukee), Hayward took over the game in front of a national audience on the road in Charlotte against Davidson. The nationally adored, Stephen Curry was outplayed and took twice as many shots as the local Indiana native, as the Bulldogs cruised to an impressive 12-point road victory.
Although, his Butler team has been a bit erratic as of late, their youth has surely matured and they can also boast wins over quality opponents Xavier, UAB, Drake and Northwestern. If you missed out on Hayward’s 27-point/9-rebound performance against Davidson, the Bulldogs’ likely 4-6 seed should put them in a position to be visible beyond the first week.
THE WEEK THAT WILL BE: The Regular Season Comes to a Close
A slow night on the major networks, unfortunately the Florida State @ Duke game is on 360 and not part of ESPN’s double-header.
There is, however, a huge Mountain West game on the Mountain starting at 9 p.m. as New Mexico looks for one more signature win when they host the conference’s leader, Utah at the Pit.
Virginia Tech is battling down the stretch for a tournament bid; bad time to have to host North Carolina. That game tips at 7 on ESPN.
Big East/NCAA tournament seeding is on the line when Marquette hits Steel City to face the Pittsburgh Panthers for a 7:30 game on ESPN2.
Unfortunately, the deuce has the wrong Big 12 game to follow with Kansas in Lubbock to face Texas Tech. ESPN360 has the Oklahoma/Mizzou game, but I will be getting that game on my local cable sports network, Altitude (Nuggets/Avalanche).
ESPN and ESPN2 have “backloaded” doubleheaders, as their 9 p.m. games are far superior to the earlier ones.
ESPN-Illinois at a desperate Penn St. team.
ESPN2-A great Atlantic-10 (OHIO) battle with heavies, Dayton in Cincy to face Xavier.
FSN has a huge PAC-10 game at 10:30 with California in the Painted Desert to face a win-starved Arizona Wildcat team.
While some conferences are knee deep in their conference tourneys (check your listings, as these games are fluid and obviously unscheduled) the major leagues finish up their regular seasons over the weekend.
CBS has a tripleheader that reads like this:
Noon: UConn @ Pitt (a rematch of that titanic game in February)
2 p.m.: Kentucky heads to Gainsville for a bubble-match with Florida
4 p.m.: California could still use another win, but that will easier said than done when they hit the Phoenix area to face Arizona State.
ABC has some good regional coverage at 3:30, but here in BIG-12 country, we will be enjoying Okie State @ Oklahoma. The fast-paced Cowboys are still alive, but I can’t imagine their rivals from Norman are going to go easy on them.
Late night (10 p.m.) Mountain West action, as two desperate teams face off. UNLV has a nice resume of wins, but the (20-8, 8-6) Rebs need as many in conference as possible. The deeply-bubble entrenched San Diego State will not roll over.
CBS has two great games today, as most teams around the country prepare or are finishing their conference tourneys.
At noon, Big Ten heavies Purdue and Michigan State face off at high noon in East Lansing. Later, at 4 p.m., the game’s best, biggest, and most storied rivalry puts a bow on the regular season with Duke looking to avenge their loss earlier this year, when they travel 10 minutes down the road to play North Carolina.
ENJOY THE GAMES!
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