Thursday, January 08, 2009

Some Pac-10 Recaps

California 81, #14 Arizona State 71
Catching up on the week that was, let's start with three Pac-10 games from Sunday night. First we have this game, where Arizona State lost their chance to move into the Top Ten for the first time under Herb Sendek. There should be some worry about Arizona State's defense that they gave up so many wide open shots and layups despite the fact that Cal was never on the fast break (only fours steals all night). Part of it was Cal shooting out of their minds (53% from the behind the arc), but part of it was just bad defense. And you need to be solid defensively to win consistently in a good conference, because you're always going to have those games where the shots aren't falling and you need to win with defense. But that said, I don't like to nitpick with good teams that lose a single game. It's been over 20 years since we had an undefeated team, and it could be another 20 before we see it again, so everybody is going to lose sometimes. The Sun Devils are still the second best team in the Pac-10, and the only team with a real shot to dethrone UCLA for the title. For Cal, this is a big legitimizing win for a team with a gaudy record but no signature victory. They are now 13-2 with back-to-back wins over the two Arizona teams to start the Pac-10 regulars season, but prior to those two games their best win was over UNLV. Even without the signature win, the resume was very solid. Both the RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS put them in the Top 20, although they've probably over-performed a bit, as their Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy are both in the high-20s. Either way, they're well-positioned for a really good start to their Pac-10 season, as the schedule is pretty easy for the next few weeks.

Stanford 76, Arizona 60

I've been more and more impressed with Landry Fields every time I watch him. I don't even remember him from last season, but he's arguably the best player now on a very good Stanford team. I don't know what to make of that 30 point home loss to Arizona State, and I don't think anybody really does, but other than that this Stanford team has really been quite good. Throw that one game out and you've got an 11-0 team with three wins over BCS conference teams. That said, you can't just pretend that the 30 point loss didn't happen, and that's why Stanford is currently a bubble team rather than a Pac-10 contender. We'll learn a lot about this team in their next five games, playing at the two Washington teams, then at home against Cal and the two Oregon teams. If they can split the Washington games, hold serve against Cal and take care of business at home against the two worst teams in the conference then they'll be looking like at worst the fourth best team in a conference that is sure to get at least four Tournament teams. For Arizona, their defense was just atrocious in this one, and they've now got two games that are as much of a must-win scenario as a big time team can have at this point in the season. After that 0-2 start in conference they get the easiest weekend you can get in the Pac-10: Oregon and Oregon State at home. If Arizona is going to be a Tournament team they absolutely need to sweep these two games. They follow those two up with road games at UCLA and USC. A loss to Oregon or Oregon State could mean a 1-5 start for a team that might need to go 11-7 to make the Tournament. There's just no way that this Arizona team will go 10-2 over their final 12 Pac-10 games.

Oregon State 62, USC 58
Speaking of losing to Oregon State, USC is the first Pac-10 team to suffer that ignominy since Washington back on February 22nd, 2007. USC could afford this loss a little bit more than Arizona can because their performance thus far this year has been better, but it's a devastating loss nonetheless. A loss against a team that bad is killer for the computer numbers (USC's RPI has plummeted all the way down to 85th in the nation). That said, the Trojans get an immediate chance to rebound with back-to-back-to-back home games coming up against UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona. Two wins out of three there and they'll be back in excellent shape for an at-large bid. Two or more losses in those three games and they'll face an uphill battle to get back off the bubble.

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