Monday, January 04, 2016

Morning News: Pac-12 Weirdness Including California/Utah, Arizona/Arizona State, UCLA/Washington, And More

Another bizarre day from the most wide-open major conference.
California Stifles Utah California's defense has been quietly very strong this season, particularly over the past few weeks. Over their last four games they held Virginia to 1.02 PPP (pretty good against the nation's best offense), held Davidson to 0.81 PPP, then held Colorado to 0.93 PPP, and Utah to 0.92 PPP here. It has been the key to success for a team with an inconsistent offense. So far this season California is 12-0 when holding opponents below 1 PPP, and 0-3 when allowing more than 1 PPP. They won this game despite not putting a single player into double-digit scoring.

Saint Mary's and Davidson were California's best wins in non-conference play, but they have no losses against likely RPI 100+ opponents, and are off to a quick 2-0 start in Pac-12 play. If they can get a couple of big scalps while going 10-8 or better in Pac-12 play, that really should be enough to earn an at-large bid.

Utah, in contrast, is starting to look shaky as an NCAA Tournament team. With that win over Duke and the increased respect the Pac-12 is getting, Utah would be a near certainty for an at-large bid at 10-8 or better in Pac-12 play, but that will be an uphill battle. They need to pull an upset Friday night at Colorado to avoid dropping to 0-3.

Arizona Wins In Tarczewski's Return Kaleb Tarczewski played in his first game since Thanksgiving Week, though foul trouble prevented him from having too large of an impact. He only played for 15 minutes and had 8 points and 5 rebounds. The star for Arizona was Gabe York, who shot 4-for-7 behind the arc, including making three straight during the key stretch when Arizona blew the game open. The other story in the game was the reffing, which was driving both head coaches nuts. And in a six point game with a little over a minute to go, Bobby Hurley melted down, picking up one technical foul and then a second, getting tossed. The game was over by the time he left the court:
If Arizona can avoid any more significant injuries, they will be the heavy favorites to win the Pac-12. Arizona State, meanwhile, is a potential bubble team who missed a huge opportunity to build their resume here. They have a win over Texas A&M, but that's more than balanced out by ugly losses to Sacramento State and Marquette. They'll be in the mix on Selection Sunday if they can get to 9-9 or better in Pac-12 play, but with road games at USC and UCLA up next, they are staring at an 0-3 start to the season unless they can pull an upset.

UCLA Loses Again Just two days after a rough loss to Washington, UCLA ends their Washington road trip with another bad loss. UCLA's defense let them down here, as it has for much of the season. Wazzu hit 61% of their two-pointers and scored 1.18 PPP, led by 20 points and 14 rebounds by Josh Hawkinson. Of the 13 teams that UCLA has played in the Pomeroy Top 200, 10 have cracked 1 PPP.

UCLA has those big wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga, so even at 9-9 in Pac-12 play they'll be in the mix on Selection Sunday, but they are now 0-2 with losses to arguably the two worst teams in the league. A home game against Arizona on Thursday night is a crucial game to avoid 0-3, and also to add a third big win onto their resume.

USC's Brutal Collapse When you're a potential bubble team, every single game could end up the difference between making or missing the NCAA Tournament. And if USC misses on Selection Sunday, some will point back to their ugly collapse here, where they blew a 22 point lead with 13:30 to go. The injury to Julian Jacobs was a factor, but USC really just fell apart offensively. Over that final 13:30, they scored 0.61 PPP, scoring just 6 baskets to 9 turnovers, while Washington made 14 baskets and committed just 1 turnover.

It remains to be seen if the Jacobs injury will be a serious one, but the ending of this game just reinforces how important he is to the Trojans. They have a key week coming up with a homestand against the Arizona schools. Their win over Wichita State is their only against a likely RPI Top 50 opponent, so the Arizona game in particular would be big for their resume.

Oregon State Eases Past Oregon Oregon State jumped out to an early 31-14 lead, and the lead basically stayed in that range for the rest of the game. Oregon State is a team that is not great in any one area, but they have nice balance on both sides of the court and don't make a ton of mistakes. Wayne Tinkle is one of the better coaches in the Pac-12, and it was actually Tinkle's son Trey who led all scorers with 19 points here. In addition, Gary Payton II had another stat stuffing day (12 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals). He also did this:
This was Oregon State's best win the of the season thus far, though they don't have any particularly bad losses (Valparaiso could end up in the RPI Top 50), and due to a relatively strong non-conference schedule they will have strong computer numbers if they play well in conference play. They look like a prototypical bubble team.

Oregon has been in a little slide since those nice early season victories over Baylor and Valparaiso. They still look like an NCAA Tournament team, but they head into a very tricky part of their schedule. It feels like the majority of the Pac-12 is a bubble-quality team, and Oregon plays almost all of them in the next few weeks. California and Stanford are up next.

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