College Basketball Nation: Abdul Gaddy

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

December, 14, 2012
The Pac-12 has a chance to pick up signature wins Saturday, when Arizona takes on Florida at the McKale Center and Cal hosts Creighton. Otherwise the upcoming weekend is rather humdrum. Here are the latest rankings.

1. Arizona: The No. 8 Wildcats survived their first true test of the season by defeating Clemson on the road, but the Tigers aren’t anywhere close to as good as No. 5 Florida, which defeated its first seven opponents by an average of 25.3 points.

2. Oregon: Much like the downtrodden Big 12, identifying the second-best squad in this conference is tough. Dana Altman’s team gets the nod this week simply because the Ducks are the only school (other than Arizona) that hasn’t suffered an embarrassing loss. Oregon’s only setback came against Cincinnati. Oh, and the Ducks beat UNLV, something Cal couldn’t do.

3. Colorado: OK, so the Buffaloes aren’t as good as we thought. But there’s no way they’re as bad as the team that lost by 36 points to Kansas last weekend. Things just snowballed on them. That can happen at Allen Fieldhouse. I still say this team finishes no worse than fourth in the Pac-12.

4. Cal: The Golden Bears’ performance in a one-point loss to UNLV was actually pretty impressive. This is by no means a great Cal team, but as long as Allen Crabbe keeps playing well, this squad will be able to compete with anyone in the league.

5. Oregon State: Craig Robinson’s team is set to begin a five-game home stretch against a bundle of mediocre opponents. Don’t be surprised if the Beavers enter conference play Jan. 6 against Oregon with an 11-2 record and loads of confidence.

6. UCLA: The Bruins didn’t play great in Saturday’s 65-63 victory over Texas at Houston's Reliant Stadium. But give them credit for showing toughness down the stretch and battling back for a victory. Maybe that was a momentum boost for this team. Shabazz Muhammad will be more effective once he loses 5-10 pounds.

7. Stanford: Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell combined to average 28.9 points for the Cardinal. We’ll know a lot more about Johnny Dawkins’ team after a week that includes road games at NC State and Northwestern.

8. Washington: The Huskies aren’t as talented as they’ve been in the past, but it’s not as if the roster is completely bare. Aziz N'Diaye, Abdul Gaddy, C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs are all veterans. And Washington boasts an incredible home-court advantage.

9. Washington State: Two of the Cougars’ four losses (against Gonzaga and Texas A&M) have been in the closing seconds. The return of DaVonte Lacy from a knee injury has given Washington State a huge boost.

10. Utah: The Utes are arguably the most improved team in the Pac-12. They crushed the Boise State team that beat Creighton by 13 points, and Utah lost to BYU by only three points in Provo. On Tuesday, the Utes will try to avenge an earlier loss at SMU when the Mustangs visit Salt Lake City.

11. Arizona State: The Sun Devils fell from No. 6 to No. 11 this week after getting annihilated at home by DePaul, one of the worst teams in the Big East. The game wasn’t nearly as close as the 78-61 score suggests. Even with Arizona State’s 8-2 record, that stomping will be difficult to forget.

12. USC: I don’t believe the Trojans are truly the worst team in the league, but they’ve yet to do anything to deserve a higher ranking. I’m all for playing a tough schedule, but Kevin O’Neill might have overdone it. USC’s past five losses were against Marquette, San Diego State, Nebraska, New Mexico and Minnesota.

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Primer

November, 16, 2012
The Hall of Fame Tip-Off is a tournament set up for one marquee team.

That's what it did last season for Kentucky. That's what it's doing this season for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are set to play in a "title" game, regardless of what occurs Saturday at the Mohegan Sun. And for OSU, having some sort of certainty probably helps, considering that its Nov. 9 opener -- against Marquette aboard the the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C. -- was canceled.

The basics: Nov. 17-18 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

The set matchups (Nov. 17): Norfolk State vs. Loyola (Md.), noon ET; UMKC vs. Albany 2:30 p.m. ET; Ohio State vs. Rhode Island, 5 p.m. ET; Seton Hall vs. Washington, 7:30 p.m.

The favorite: Well, the tournament is set up for Ohio State, so it's hard to pick any other team. The Bucks come into the event as the only ranked squad, much like last year's event with Kentucky. OSU hasn't had a true barometer contest yet due to the cancellation of the Marquette game. The best scenario would be for the Buckeyes to get pushed a bit here in advance of having to go to Duke on Nov. 28 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.


Mike Black, Albany: The senior guard is off to an America East player-of-the-year-type season. Black scored a combined 42 points over his past two games after 15 in the season opener. His ability to score in a variety of ways should prove useful once he gets into conference play. So far, he's not having any problems scoring against perceived tougher competition.

Aaron Craft, Ohio State: The Buckeyes point guard is one of the top lead guards in the country. He has to set the tone early and often for Ohio State. He has been known as a defender and top facilitator, but might have to do more scoring with the current makeup of the OSU roster. Craft scored 20 points Sunday in a 22-point win over Albany.

[+] EnlargeFuquan Edwin
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireSeton Hall swingman Fuquan Edwin is averaging 19.5 points so far this season.
Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall: The Pirates have consistently had a big-time scorer under both Bobby Gonzalez and current coach Kevin Willard. Edwin is off to a terrific start in this department, averaging just under 20 points a game so far. He probably will get plenty of shots against Washington and then possibly Rhode Island. This could be a breakout weekend for Edwin to gain even more name recognition prior to Big East play.

Abdul Gaddy, Washington: Gaddy is off to a solid start for the Huskies after a few seasons of erratic and injured play. He has the ability to dominate the ball and give Craft plenty to handle if the two meet Sunday. Gaddy didn't bolt when everything didn't go his way. Now he has to maximize his opportunity and excel.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: Thomas is the new face of this team. He played well off Jared Sullinger last season, but now he has to be the featured forward. Thomas scored 19 in the opening win over Albany. He is a consensus preseason All-American and he will need to live up to that hype if Ohio State has a real shot to compete for the Big Ten title.


How will Ohio State handle being expected to win?

The Buckeyes have gone through the past few seasons in a favored role in the Big Ten. This season they can actually play with more freedom not being the fave. But in this event, anything less than two wins at the Mohegan Sun will be deemed a disappointment. The Bucks need to show that they have balance and can defend over the next two days.

Which Albany team will show?

The Great Danes are 2-1, with wins over Washington on the road and against Duquesne, so they appear to be a legit contender in the conference. Beat MAAC contender Loyola (Md.) and Albany will get even more credibility among its peers.

Will Washington turn its season around?

The Huskies lost two players to the NBA draft after winning the Pac-12 regular-season title. But the season was still expected to be promising and still can be if the Huskies can stop the bleeding from this week's stunning home loss to Albany. A year ago, Washington came east and lost at Madison Square Garden to Marquette and Duke. This is the first of two trips to Connecticut for the Huskies (they play at UConn on Dec. 29). Leaving with at least one win is a must. Two would add momentum for the rest of the nonconference slate.

How much of a contender or pretender is Seton Hall?

The Pirates are a bit of an unknown in the Big East. This event has a chance to unveil the mystery. Seton Hall should be taken seriously because of its ability to score. If the Pirates can get to a meeting with Ohio State and pull the upset, then a possible top-half finish in the Big East isn't out of the question.

What are the chances Danny Hurley can get his first win at Rhode Island?

The Rams lost by 12 at home to Norfolk State and got drilled at Virginia Tech by 19 points. URI is going through a complete overhaul and won't truly be back until a high-level recruiting class comes to Kingston next season. But this team can't get too discouraged here early in the season. A split of the games this weekend will at least give the Rams some confidence moving forward.


Saturday: Loyola (Md.) over Norfolk State; Albany over UMKC; Ohio State over Rhode Island; Washington over Seton Hall.
Sunday: Norfolk State over UMKC; Albany over Loyola (Md.); Seton Hall over Rhode Island; Ohio State over Washington.

Summer Shootaround: Pac-12

July, 17, 2012

Editor's note:’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on the Pac-12, click here.

1. UCLA's late recruiting surge: Less than two months after a Sports Illustrated story threatened to damage the reputation of coach Ben Howland and his program, the Bruins added a pair of standout freshmen who could make UCLA a top-10 staple this season. Shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad -- the No. 2-ranked prospect in the class of 2012 -- announced his intentions during a live telecast on ESPNU in May. Center Tony Parker, who is ranked No. 26, followed suit soon after. Mix in fifth-ranked Kyle Anderson, a small forward who signed in the fall, and it's easy to see why UCLA's haul was ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN.

2. Mark Lyons transfers to Arizona: The Wildcats' list of newcomers became even more impressive with the addition Lyons, who scored nearly 1,200 points in three seasons at Xavier. Arizona coach Sean Miller signed Lyons when he coached the Musketeers and had a chance to reconnect with him when Lyons decided to transfer for his final season. Lyons will provide a huge boost to a squad that also welcomes the country's third-ranked recruiting class. Mix in returnees such as Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson and there will be no excuses for the Wildcats missing the NCAA tournament, which they've done two of the past three seasons.

3. USC's bounce back: Could a team that finished 6-26 overall and 1-17 in Pac-12 play last season actually make the NCAA tournament in 2013? Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill says yes, and there appears to be validity to his optimism. Last year's squad lost four starters to season-ending injuries and was down to six scholarship players by the end of the season. Now USC is preparing to welcome back team captain Jio Fontan and NBA prospect Dewayne Dedmon along with newcomers such as Wake Forest transfers J.T. Terrell and Ari Stewart. Tissue-thin a year ago, the 2012-13 Trojans will be the deepest team of O'Neill's tenure.

4. Washington hurt by NBA draft: The Huskies' chances of repeating as Pac-12 champions took a major hit when sophomore small forward Terrence Ross and freshman point guard Tony Wroten left school early to turn pro. Both players became instant millionaires when they were selected in the first round. Ross was picked eighth by Toronto; Memphis nabbed Wroten with the 25th selection. The early departures will put additional pressure on players such as C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy and Aziz N'Diaye. Even with Ross and Wroten in the lineup, Washington missed the NCAA tournament last spring. Can they make it this season without them?

5. Can Jahii Carson make Arizona State relevant again?: The Sun Devils experienced their worst season under Herb Sendek when they went 10-21 last season. But let's face it: Arizona State hasn't had a quality point guard since Derek Glasser graduated two years ago. Carson was supposed to fill that void as a freshman last season, but he was ruled academically ineligible and never played a game. Luckily, he was able to practice with his teammates, which should help him adapt to the college game more quickly when he takes the court for the first time this fall. Arizona State has missed the NCAA tournament the past three seasons.
The tallies have been counted. The results are in. The Washington Huskies are your outright 2012 Pac-12 champions, an honor they managed to obtain despite losing at UCLA Saturday. How? Because Cal -- thanks to two straight road losses to end the season, including Sunday's 75-70 loss at rival Stanford -- lost its share of the top position in the league. As conference title races go, this was a rather anticlimactic finish, and it probably says something incisive about the conference in general that its winner was decided via losses.

But give some credit to the Huskies too. UW clearly got better over the course of the Pac-12 season. But for a few detours along the way -- an 87-69 loss at Colorado here, an 82-57 loss at Oregon there -- they've mostly played good basketball, and they've been excellent down the stretch in close games. They earned this title, inefficacious finish and all.

The big question now, of course, is what this final week of the season means for the Pac-12's at-large chances. One thing's for sure, it wasn't good. Arizona's loss at Arizona State may well eliminate the Wildcats from serious bubble consideration. Washington and Cal's losses further dinged what were already weak tournament profiles, which, like the rest of the league's, are devoid of anything resembling quality nonconference victories.

Pac-12 fans will argue that the conference's regular-season champion deserves an at-large bid by default. But why? Because it's the Pac-12? That's not a reason. The more you dive into the resumes on offer here, the more you wonder if two bids won't require deep Pac-12 tournament runs from both the Huskies and Bears. Three bids is specious. Four feels like a huge stretch. And I'm not sure any team should feel entirely safe if it fails to capture the automatic bid on offer in the Staples Center this weekend.

Shortly thereafter, the committee will register its assessment, and we can mercifully stop talking about this forever. Until then, expect plenty of sturm and drang from fans all along the West Coast. It's going to be an interesting week.

1. Washington: We'll leave behind the criticisms of the conference and the agonizing over NCAA tournament selection and instead praise the Huskies for their ability to get wins despite never really dominating in any phase of the game. Per Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency stats, UW was this league's sixth-most efficient offense and its fourth-best defense. Per John Gasaway's most recent Tuesday Truths (which doesn't include the final batch of games, but does include the 17 that preceded them), the Huskies had the fifth-best efficiency margin in conference play. So how did it go 14-4 and win the league title? Much more often than not, Washington won close games down the stretch. That's a skill, too, and if Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross, Abdul Gaddy & Co. do get to the NCAA tournament (and no guarantees, but I'd guess they will) it's one that should serve them well.

2. California: Two season-ending road losses will obscure an otherwise excellent conference run by the Bears. That's a bit of a bummer, because this team was the league's statistical best for most of the season. They led the league in efficiency margin pretty much wire to wire, and they had one of the league's best offenses throughout. Alas, the Bears will have to settle for second place. The good news? Theirs is the league's only top-40 RPI, which should come in handy if the Bears falter in the Pac-12 tournament. They aren't a guaranteed tourney inclusion by any stretch, but they're the closest thing this league has.

3. Oregon: Oregon has been a different team since former Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph found his stride in Pac-12 play. The Ducks have played especially well lately, winning their last four games, including potential resume-killers at Stanford and Oregon State last week. As a result, they finished 13-5, tied for second in the league. Given where this team appeared to be early in the season, that's a major sign of improvement.

4. Arizona: To this Bubble Watcher's mind, the Wildcats' profile was already very shaky before Sunday. After Sunday, it may be too shaky for the selection committee after all. That's because Arizona lost 87-80 at Arizona State, which ranks No. 246 in the RPI. It was a rare Sun Devils win in a typically one-sided rivalry, and it couldn't have come at a worse possible time for Sean Miller's team.

5. Colorado: The Buffaloes were always a fringe bubble candidate, but their back-to-back, season-ending road losses at Oregon and (especially) Oregon State are sure to end any hopes of an at-large tournament selection. Even so, some credit is deserved. Tad Boyle lost Alec Burks (a first-round NBA draft pick) and Cory Higgins (the team's senior leader) at the same time his team was relocating to a new conference replete with new and unfamiliar opponents and road venues. Despite all that, the Buffaloes finished 11-7 in the league and played themselves into the tournament conversation for weeks at a time. This season may not end in Dance glory, but it was an unqualified success all the same.

6. UCLA: When George Dohrmann's now-famous Sports Illustrated expose dropped last week, it could have been an unmitigated disaster for the Bruins' program. In some ways, it was, revealing Ben Howland as a distant, difficult personality who allowed talents like Reeves Nelson to behave rather horribly for years as his program's success disintegrated around him. But on the court, UCLA responded with what may have been its best week of the season. On Thursday, Howland's team was comprehensive in its win over Washington State; on Saturday, the Bruins played temporary spoiler to Washington at home. If Howland survives this mess to coach another season in Westwood, the positivity and solidarity exhibited by these besieged players and coaches -- who will now have to be the foundation of a top-down reworking of this entire program's modus operandi -- may count as a major reason why.

7. Stanford: The Cardinal may not have lived up to the potential they flashed in their 11-1 start (and their near-upset of Syracuse in Madison Square Garden in November), and they won't be heading to the NCAA tournament this season (barring a Pac-12 tourney title, obviously). But Dawkins' team did take a major step forward from last season's 15-16 finish. What's more, they beat Cal on Sunday, and spoiling their rivals' share of a Pac-12 title has to feel pretty good, too.

8. Washington State: Ken Bone's program hardly had a banner season, but let's keep it positive. Washington State center Brock Motum emerged almost from nowhere, establishing himself as a major force to be reckoned with this season and one to be feared in 2012-13. You can make a very cogent player of the year case for Motum. At the very least, his performance was all-conference-worthy, and he'll be one to watch next season.

9. Oregon State: Oregon State closed out its Pac-12 slate with two straight home wins, but the victories were just the sixth and seventh of the season. It's clear Craig Robinson's program -- despite the consistent excellence of guard Jared Cunningham, for whom you can also make a pretty convincing POY case -- has a long way to go before the rebuilding project is through.

10. Arizona State: Tough year for the Sun Devils, but at least it ended well. If rival Arizona falls off the bubble picture in the days to come -- and it probably should -- it will have Sunday's 87-80 upset at ASU to thank. Arizona State fans haven't had much to smile about this season, but serving as a potential death knell for their hated (and usually dominant) rivals has to provide some solace.

11. Utah: The Utes were putrid in 2012, particularly in the nonconference, and they didn't improve much once Pac-12 play began. But they did compete. Given how bad this team looked in November and December, and the fact that it dismissed do-everything guard Josh Watkins midway through the season, Utah's scrappy competitiveness against obviously superior Pac-12 rivals is, if anything, a credit to Larry Krystkowiak's leadership. Here's to brighter days ahead.

12. USC: The Trojans ended their season the way they lived it: being almost unfathomably bad on the offensive end. Their point totals in this week's home losses to Washington and Washington State (58 and 38, respectively) added yet two more data points to a rather remarkable stat: The Trojans scored more than 60 points just twice in conference play. Some of that is pace, but most of it is the 82.7 (adjusted) points per trip. It also pales in comparison to the greatest data stat of them all: In this year's Pac-12 -- the worst year in this league in quite some time -- USC went 1-17. Blech.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

February, 6, 2012
Allow me to concur with my colleague, Myron Medcalf, who included the Pac-12's intriguing title race among his five observations Sunday:
2. The Pac-12 race is actually exciting: Let’s ignore the fact this could still be a one-bid league and the overall conference has been bested by multiple mid-major conferences this season. The Pac-12’s title race is compelling right now. Washington beat Arizona on the road last weekend and then overcame a late double-digit deficit to beat UCLA on Thursday. The Wildcats overcame Cal’s early 22-9 lead in one of the better matchups of the week: a 78-74 road win for Arizona, which it followed up with a victory at Stanford. The Pac-12 might end up with the most captivating finish in the country simply because so many teams possess questionable NCAA tourney résumés.

This is entirely true. Sure, the quality of play in the Pacific 12 conference isn't the highest in the country, but so what? If you want to watch the best basketball in the world, played by all of its best players, well, NBA League Pass is right this way. Go wild. If you want your hoops defined as much by imperfection as success, it's hard to do much better than this fascinating and downright weird league.

Anyway, onto the rankings.

1. Washington: For much of the season, yours truly has been pining over the Washington Huskies. Well, not pining, exactly, but at least keeping an eye out. With Tony Wroten, Abdul Gaddy, Terrence Ross and Aziz N'Diaye, Washington has always appeared to be the most talented team in the conference. Of course, talent only goes so far, and for much of the season, this team's talent was undermined by a lack of chemistry and a lack of defense, and not always in that order. Both of those things have changed in conference play. The Huskies are hardly blowing the doors off on offense, but they're allowing the league's third-fewest points per possession on defense, and unlike their mediocre nonconference slate, Lorenzo Romar's team is getting key stops, closing out tight games and winning on the road. As a result -- and thanks to Cal's home loss to Arizona this week -- Washington finds itself alone atop the Pac-12 standings Monday morning. Can the Huskies take that lead to the finish line? It may not matter, this team's at-large tourney profile is still pretty mediocre. But you can't knock Washington's improvement. If things keep going this way, Romar's team will be in excellent position heading into the all-important Pac-12 tournament.

2. California: The Bears have spent the entire Pac-12 season looking like this conference's best, or at least most solid, team. That perception hasn't changed, despite Thursday's home loss to Arizona, which dropped California out of first place in the league standings. Thing is, Cal has reached its ceiling. The Bears are what they are. That's not something we can necessarily say about Washington, which looks capable of greater improvement each time it takes the floor. The Bears are solid (and their total per-possession numbers are solid, if not amazing, particularly in conference play) but unspectacular. Meh.

3. Colorado: Is it time to believe in Colorado? Insofar as "believe in Colorado" means "think they might be the third- or fourth-best team in the Pac-12," then yeah, sure. The Buffaloes are playing solid defense and got a couple of nice wins last week over Oregon State and Oregon (though Saturday night's win over the Ducks featured a controversial last-second foul call on Oregon's E.J. Singler that gave coach Tad Boyle's team two late, game-sealing free throws). In any case, the Buffaloes still need to prove themselves on the road. This team's only Pac-12 road victory came at USC, and five of their final seven games -- including the next three, at Arizona, Arizona State and Utah -- are on the road. We'll see.

4. Arizona: The Wildcats move up the board further than anyone this week thanks to their impressive Bay Area sweep, which began Thursday at Cal and ended Saturday at Stanford. Both were solid wins for coach Sean Miller's improving bunch. The Wildcats are now 7-4 in conference play with the best per-possession defense in the league. Arizona's offense could hold them back (it was uncharacteristically good at Cal, and it didn't prevent a win at Stanford), but the Cats may have found their niche on the defensive end.

5. Oregon: Perception-wise, it's hard to penalize the Ducks too much for losing on the road at Colorado, let alone losing on the road on such a controversial last-second call. Coach Dana Altman's team has an excellent chance to bounce back this week when Washington comes to town, so that's good news. But Oregon has yet to really impress when it comes to efficiency margin in league play, and while Altman and Oregon fans may feel like they are a few missed opportunities away from contention, the Ducks' advanced metrics beg to differ.

6. Stanford: Stanford entered league play with a sluggish offense and what appeared to be the conference's best defense. Since then, coach Johnny Dawkins' team has regressed to the mean on the defensive end, allowing the fifth-most points per possession in Pac-12 play. That wouldn't be so bad if Stanford were playing a bit better on offense. Unfortunately, that's not the case. That's why Arizona was able to win in Palo Alto on Saturday despite scoring well under a point per possession, and that's why Stanford, once a potential title contender, is stuck here at 6-5.

7. Oregon State: It's hard to move the Beavers either up or down after Oregon State lost at Colorado and won at Utah. Guard Jared Cunningham leads an offense that can score in bunches and a defense that is far too permissive both at home and on the road. Last week's win at Oregon was nice, but little else has been impressive.

8. UCLA: Believe it or not, the Bruins score the most points per trip of any team in the Pac-12. Travis and David Wear are providing efficient role scoring, and Joshua Smith remains a load for any defense to handle. Strangely enough for a program that has prided itself on defense in the Ben Howland era, this team is totally mediocre on the defensive end. Losing to Washington on the road, as the Bruins did Thursday, is hardly a crime. But the way UCLA lost -- with a timeout still on the board -- was curious. More importantly, this team hasn't gone anywhere since the turmoil of November and December, and that has UCLA fans questioning the program's future direction.

9. Washington State: Washington State had one thing going for it in early Pac-12 play: home-court advantage. The Cougars were offensively potent at home, and that trait guided them to wins over Stanford and Cal in back-to-back games last month. But Faisal Aden's sad, career-ending ACL injury has robbed them of even that ability, made evident by a meager 60-53 win over USC and a 60-points-in-65-possessions performance in Saturday's three-point loss to UCLA. This was never going to be a tournament team, but that doesn't make Aden's fate, or its effect on this fledgling squad, any easier to swallow.

10. Arizona State: No surprises here. Arizona State had two road games this week -- at Stanford, at Cal -- and lost by 20-plus in both. Those blowouts moved the Sun Devils to 3-8 in league play, good enough to stay atop Utah and USC and no one else.

11. Utah: The Utes will never truly wash off the stink of their horrendous nonconference performance; on a per-possession basis, they've been ranked in the low 300s all season, and they'll be there for the remainder. But they do still own one more league win than USC. Then again, Utah has lost its past four (including at USC), mostly in blowout fashion, and the Utes may return to their seemingly predestined spot at the bottom of these rankings if the trend continues.

12. USC: And then there's Southern California. The Trojans' only win in league play came at home over Utah, and while they kept things relatively close at Washington State (losing 60-53), that's hardly worth much. USC is scoring about 0.83 points per possession in Pac-12 play, a league that hardly specializes in lockdown defense. Unless the Trojans discover a magical way to score the basketball in the next few weeks, their only hopes of avoiding the 2012 Pac-12 wooden spoon award is if Utah somehow plays even worse.

Marquette notches dramatic win at MSG

December, 7, 2011

NEW YORK -- A season ago, Marquette won 22 games and went all the way to the Sweet 16 -- yet was just 4-7 in games decided by 5 points or fewer.

This season is starting very differently, as evidenced by the Golden Eagles’ thrilling 79-77 victory over Washington on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Marquette, ranked No. 11 in the country, is now 8-0 on the season. Coach Buzz Williams was happy with the victory, but not with his team’s play early in the game, nor with himself.

“I thought [Washington’s] energy and their intensity to start the game, we were not able to match. And I think I did a poor job of helping our team when Chris Otule got hurt," Williams said of Marquette’s starting center, who sprained his knee less than two minutes in and did not return; he will have an MRI on Wednesday. "Because that changes how you have to guard ball screens. That changes when and if you’re gonna trap the post, and who you’re gonna trap the post with. And I didn’t think that I handled that very well.

“I thought once we kinda got in a groove, we were better.”

They certainly were. After falling behind quickly 11-2, Marquette rallied back to take its first lead of the game, 27-26, just under 6 minutes before halftime. The Golden Eagles led 37-34 at intermission.

The second half of this game was a classic seesaw battle, with 18 -- yes, 18! -- lead changes. Neither team led by more than 5 (and that was only after Marquette’s first bucket of the second half).

The game came down to the final minute. Washington’s Terrence Ross (team-high 19 points) hit a tough foul-line bank shot to give the Huskies (4-3) a 77-76 lead with 17 seconds left to play. Williams elected not to call a timeout -- he had already gone over a play with his team in a previous timeout, in case Washington scored on the previous possession.

The ball ended up in senior forward Jae Crowder’s hands. “My man showed pretty hard, I got a good screen from Jamil Wilson to pop out to the [right] corner,” Crowder said. “Once that happened, I knew I had a good look at the rim.”

[+] EnlargeMarquette
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesWith its win over Washington at MSG, Marquette improved to 8-0 on the young season.
The shot, from just beyond the 3-point arc, was on the money, giving the Golden Eagles a 2-point lead with 6.3 seconds remaining.

Washington elected not to call a timeout, instead pushing the ball up the floor. Abdul Gaddy’s well-defended desperation heave from the right wing was way off at the buzzer.

“Yeah,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar, when asked if he thought about calling a timeout to set up a last shot. “Probably in retrospect, probably would have liked to.”

This is the Golden Eagles’ second win by 5 points or less this season, following a 59-57 victory over Norfolk State in the championship game of the Paradise Jam on Nov. 22.

Marquette was also coming off an impressive 61-54 win at No. 7 Wisconsin on Saturday. Williams admitted that fatigue may have played a role in his players’ struggles Tuesday night, particularly at the start.

Leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom had 23 points, but shot just 6-for-17 from the field. Crowder added 18 points, 16 of them coming in the second half.

“I think we’re whipped,” Williams said.

On the bright side, Marquette -- picked to finish sixth in the Big East this season in the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll -- looks like it’s capable of being much better than that, as we inch closer to the beginning of conference play.

Losing Otule for a significant period of time would hurt, to be sure. But this Marquette team is deep -- Williams used 11 players on Tuesday, with seven of them contributing 4 points or more.

There have been some pleasant surprises as well. Among them are freshman Todd Mayo, the younger brother of NBA player O.J. Mayo, who scored 11 points off the bench against Washington, and has scored in double figures in five of the team’s eight games.

There may be some increased competition for playing time in the weeks ahead, and talk of that made Williams grin at the postgame podium.

“Yeah, I like that,” he said. “It’s good. Recruit as many good players as you can, win as many games as you can, and play as many as you can along the way.”

10 observations from opening weekend

November, 14, 2011
Friday's Carrier Classic and Cleveland State’s upset of Vanderbilt on Sunday weren’t the only things that grabbed my attention during the first weekend of the 2011-12 campaign. Here are 10 other observations I made while tracking the season’s first few days of games.

1. First and foremost, it was good to see Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy on the sideline for Sunday’s victory over Southern. Kennedy, who was hired during the offseason to replace Mark Turgeon, had taken a month-long leave of absence after being diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Although his condition has improved, Kennedy still isn’t sure if he’ll accompany the Aggies to New York later this week for the final rounds of the 2K Sports Classic.

[+] EnlargeChris Lowery
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWhen on the hot seat, it is not advisable to open the season with a loss to a Division II team.
2. Speaking of coaches, Southern Illinois’ Chris Lowery continued his fall from grace Saturday when the Salukis suffered a 64-63 home loss to Ohio Dominican, a Division II school that won despite committing 27 turnovers. Just five years ago, Lowery was one of college basketball’s hottest names after SIU advanced to the Sweet 16. Now he’s hoping to save his job by avoiding his fourth consecutive losing season.

3. Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor is still the best point guard in America -- for now. But I won’t be surprised if Kendall Marshall surpasses him by the time conference play begins. The North Carolina sophomore had 15 assists and just one turnover in Sunday's victory over UNC Asheville. And, yes, I know it helps that Marshall is surrounded by future NBA lottery picks who finish most every play. Still, Marshall is a special, special talent and, in my opinion, the most irreplaceable person on the Tar Heels’ roster.

4. I watched Billy Gillispie’s Texas Tech debut on ESPN3 Friday night. I must say, I was impressed with how cohesive and selfless the Red Raiders looked in a 90-85 victory over Troy. Remember, this team is almost completely made up of true freshmen and junior-college transfers. Yet they managed to keep their poise and hit big shots in the waning minutes of a tight game. Gillispie also had to be pleased with the announced crowd of 10,088. Even though the figured was reportedly inflated, the turnout was still encouraging.

5. I can’t wait to watch Belmont play again.

6. Arizona came from behind to defeat Ball State on Sunday without the services of highly touted point guard Josiah Turner. Wildcats coach Sean Miller elected not to play the freshman after a pair of lackluster performances in Zona’s first two games. Miller is obviously trying to send a message to a player who some analysts hailed as a “one-and-done” prospect.

7. Remember how everyone said point-guard play was the reason for Baylor’s poor performance in 2010-11? A.J. Walton apparently didn’t like it. Walton, last season’s starter, is one of the most-improved players on the Bears’ roster. He dished out five assists and played a team-high 26 minutes in Sunday’s win over Jackson State. Walton, who has yet to relinquish his starting job, should continue to be a key player in a backcourt rotation that includes a pair of newcomers in Boston College transfer Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson, last season’s National Junior College Player of the Year.

8. Anyone who thought Northern Iowa was destined for a rebuilding year probably changed their opinion after the Panthers dismantled Old Dominion 63-46 on the road Saturday. ODU, you may remember, went 27-7 last season and lost by just two points to national runner-up Butler in the NCAA tournament. Northern Iowa doesn't have much time to celebrate, as Ben Jacobson’s team flew to the opposite coast for a tilt with Saint Mary’s that tips off Monday night at 11 p.m. PT.

9. A handful of high-profile players who missed either all or most of last season with injuries have looked good in their return. Virginia’s Mike Scott snared 15 rebounds in Sunday’s win over South Carolina State while Washington’s Abdul Gaddy had 15 points and six assists in a win over Florida Atlantic. On Friday, Purdue’s Robbie Hummel had 21 points in 20 minutes in a rout of Northern Illinois.

10. Sorry to end on a depressing note, but after I file this story, I’m going to pour out a little of my Diet Coke for Louisville’s Mike Marra, who is out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee in Sunday’s win over Lamar. Marra, a junior guard, averaged 6.4 points last season and figured heavily into the Cardinals’ plans. Louisville had already lost standout freshman Wayne Blackshear to a season-ending shoulder injury.

'Ridiculous' expectations on Josiah Turner

October, 25, 2011
Arizona freshman Josiah Turner is ESPNU's third-ranked point guard in the nation for the incoming class and is set to take the reins of a team that went to the Elite Eight last season. Much is expected from the 6-foot-3 Turner, who will have an opportunity to step right in and impress.

But right now Wildcats coach Sean Miller wants to slow things down a bit because he doesn't believe it's the right time for people to already be talking about Turner as a future NBA draft pick before the kid has played a single minute in college.

"The expectations on Josiah right now are almost ridiculous," Miller told reporters. "People are talking about his future before he's scored his first basket. One of the worst messages to give to a player in a college program is that college is a sentence (that you have to serve). Right now, our four freshmen know four plays, and haven't even practiced into the double digits. Before any of their futures can be evaluated, our guys need to play their first game."

Pac-12 followers only have to go back as far Abdul Gaddy at Washington a couple years ago for a reminder that expectations and rankings do not necessarily lead to one-and-done status. Gaddy was the nation's second-ranked point guard in the 2009 class behind John Wall and has steadily grown as a player before going down with a knee injury last season.

At Saturday's intrasquad game, Turner had four points, four rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes. According to the Arizona Daily Star, Turner certainly has heard all the early NBA talk leading up to his debut in a Wildcats uniform.
"I just let it fly by me," Turner said of the early NBA talk. "I'm not there till I make it there."

At Arizona's preseason media day last week, Turner spoke softly but confidently about the attention he faces as an NBA prospect and the pressure of being a highly touted player at the school's marquee position.

"It is exciting," Turner said. "It puts a lot of pressure on me, a little bit, but I just want to deal with it. That was one of the reasons I came here."

Tony Wroten undergoes minor knee surgery

October, 20, 2011
Washington's preseason practices continued to be hampered by injuries, as freshman guard Tony Wroten underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Thursday. The Huskies' top incoming recruit said in a statement that the surgery was "minor" and that his goal was to return to action by the time the Huskies play a Nov. 4 exhibition game.

A team spokesman would not comment on if the discomfort was related to a torn anterior cruciate ligament Wroten suffered in high school while playing football, forcing him to miss his junior season.

"Tony could have probably gone the whole season with a little discomfort at times and played through this," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said in a statement. "But he and his family, plus our staff, thought it would be better to take care of this now so he would be fine for the rest of the year.

"It has been nagging him a little bit, but he'll be ready to go in no time soon."

Wroten, the nation's fifth-ranked point guard recruit for the class of 2011 by ESPNU, is expected to make a significant impact on the team after missing some practice time due to the procedure.

The surgery comes less than a week after Washington's top 3-point shooter, Scott Suggs, underwent foot surgery that is expected to sideline him at least eight weeks.

Washington, which received votes in the coaches' preseason top-25 rankings released earlier in the day, does have point guard Abdul Gaddy returning to the team after recovering from a season-ending ACL injury from January.

The Huskies' guard play will be an important factor after top scorer Isaiah Thomas unexpectedly left school for the NBA draft following his junior season.

Kyle Fogg looks to lead Arizona

September, 13, 2011
The early departures of Derrick Williams and Lamont Jones from Arizona leave the Wildcats with questions about whether they can repeat as Pac-12 champions.

Just don't question the work ethic of Kyle Fogg, the team's returning leading scorer. As of last week, he had attempted nearly 40,000 shots in the offseason.

While Washington's Abdul Gaddy recently declared his intention coming off knee surgery to make 18,000 shots before the start of the season, Arizona team managers have already recorded Fogg making 26,414 of his team-high 39,132 attempts.

"We set a high number and I was able to get there just by working hard every day," Fogg said in a statement. "We had a great run in March last year and I want to do whatever I can to help us get back there again this season."

Also, the Arizona Daily Star reported Fogg has put on 15 pounds of muscle.

One of five seniors on the roster, Fogg's offseason plans should give coach Sean Miller cause for celebration as he searches for new leadership on a team that appeared to have lost its heart and soul.

A top defender and the team's leader in assists last season, Fogg is now making the transition into the post-Williams era a little easier.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, he told Jim Rome that he considered transferring after a coaching change that brought Miller on board, but he is glad he is now in a position to flourish.
Fogg also said he had no idea the Wildcats would reach the Elite Eight last season ("to be honest, not at all," he said), and that he thought of transferring during the coaching transition but that things have been great under Miller.

"It was kind of unstable," Fogg said. "Going in after my freshman year we didn't know who are coaches were going to be but I think Miller is a great coach, just [in] the things that he’s done. I believe we have the No. 1 recruiting class for next year and we have a bunch of great freshman now and I think he’s going to bring this program back to an elite level."

Abdul Gaddy now officially good to go

September, 8, 2011
Yesterday, we briefly touched on Abdul Gaddy's previously tweeted goal of making 18,000 jump shots before the start of practice on Wednesday, Oct. 15. Gaddy had already sank around 8,000 buckets -- and he's probably made more since -- so I sort of assumed that the ACL injury that kept him out of much of the 2011 season was, in fact, healing as planned. It didn't really cross my mind.

A few hours later, it did, and for good reason: Last night, Washington doctors officially proclaimed Gaddy able to return to full basketball drills, beginning immediately. The clearance comes nine months after Gaddy tore his ACL in practice on Jan. 4.

The Associated Press story linked above has one interesting tidbit:
Gaddy says that late in the spring he started to feel as if he was completely back, but doctors didn't sign off on Gaddy going all out on the court until Wednesday.

Gaddy tore his ACL in January. By "late spring" he felt like he could get back on the court. The doctors waited. But still -- if ACL surgeries and treatments continue to progress at this technological rate, there may come a time when we're able to cure ACL injuries in the middle of a game. (Fantasy football owners would love this.) Gaddy tore his ACL and felt fine -- even if it wasn't medically safe for him to play -- four months later. Four months! Even the nine-month clearance window is remarkably shorter than what it used to be. An ACL injury used to be career-threatening. Now it's merely a long-term inconvenience.

Anyway, Gaddy finally can go back to more than shooting drills. But he does still have around 10,000 shots to can over the next five weeks. Maybe his workout won't change much after all.

Abdul Gaddy counts to 18,000 shots

September, 7, 2011
The best college hoops players don't take breaks. Their offseason is a mix of camps, workouts, exhibitions, workouts and more workouts. But the best players don't just work out. They construct finely tuned plans for their development, focusing on specific, tangible goals. You don't try to "become a better shooter." You try to make 18,000 shots before the start of practice in October.

Or, at least, that's what Washington guard Abdul Gaddy is doing. On Tuesday, Gaddy tweeted the following:
"18,000 Makes before preseason... Been tallying since I started... Getting closer... This how much I got now.."

His progress to this point was included in a Twitter photo, which you can see here. It's just a list of numbers written in pen on notebook paper with the title "Makes Before Preseason," which seems like a slightly spartan way to keep track of this much data. There's got to be an app for that, right?

No matter. The message -- Gaddy has already accumulated 8,280 makes this offseason, with a goal of reaching 18,000 by Oct. 15 -- is much more important than the medium. The Huskies guard struggled from beyond the arc in his freshman season but morphed into a 40 percent 3-point shooter before his sophomore season was derailed by a season-ending injury. Despite the limited time on the floor, Gaddy's sophomore year was hugely promising: He posted a 123.1 offensive rating, an effective field goal percentage of 57.4, a true shooting percentage of 59.0 and an assist rate of 26.8. Compare it to former teammate and Washington star Isaiah Thomas's season statistics, and even if you factor in some statistical decline thanks to more playing time and a greater role in the offense, there's still good reason to think Washington's backcourt won't suffer much of a drop-off without Thomas in 2011-12.

In the meantime, we know Gaddy is in the gym, firing up thousands of shots, recording each make in his notebook. The stats are good enough already. If he turns all this offseason work into legitimate improvement -- if he becomes a deadly outside shooter as well as an efficient distributor -- look out. Washington fans may have another backcourt star on their hands.

UW's Terrence Ross getting preseason buzz

July, 20, 2011
The always-entertaining Isaiah Thomas conducted an online chat with the Seattle Times today and had some interesting thoughts. The former Washington guard likes UCLA to win the league if the Huskies don't, called the court at Oregon's Matthew Knight Arena "ugly," and also said of new Sacramento Kings teammate Jimmer Fredette, "He's like the Justin Bieber of basketball. Everywhere we go, people are crying over him."

The declaration from Thomas that should excite Washington fans was this:
Terrence Ross is the most talented player I've played with during my time at the UW.

During the three years Thomas was in Washington, he played with the likes of future NBA draft picks Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter. So that's a high compliment for Ross, the 6-foot-6 guard who made the honorable mention all-conference freshman team. Ross averaged eight points per game, and there have been other indications he's ready for a breakout season.

Percy Allen of the Seattle Times recently watched pickup games on campus and had this observation:
Even with NBA players on the court, at times Ross looked like the best player on the floor. Still if you were drafting a team of the players Thursday, the 7-1 [Spencer] Hawes would probably be the first person taken. But Ross would likely go No. 2. He thrives in an open-gym setting. He wowed the few folks in the stands with high-flying dunks, alley-oop slams and putback jams. Whenever anyone guarded him one-on-one, Ross either tried to blow past them with a dribble drive or he jabbed and whirled to create room for a fadeaway jump shot. Ross, a 20-year-old sophomore, also looks much more chiseled than he did last season.

That's great news for the Huskies, who will be looking for a go-to player after Thomas left for the NBA draft and Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning completed their eligibility.

A lot of the attention will be focused on the backcourt with the arrival of flashy freshman Tony Wroten and the return of Abdul Gaddy from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

But don't forget about Ross.

The real reason Isaiah Thomas left UW

June, 22, 2011
Washington guard Isaiah Thomas made the stunning decision to leave the Huskies behind for the NBA draft after his junior season, and in an interview with, he elaborated on what the story called "the real reason" he left school.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Thomas
Mike Nelson/US PresswireAn injury to teammate Abdul Gaddy allowed Washington's Isaiah Thomas a chance to show off his point guard skills.
According to the story, it was because Abdul Gaddy's season-ending injury allowed him to show what he could do at point guard and that after the season, coach Lorenzo Romar told him he'd be sharing duties this coming year with Gaddy and top recruit Tony Wroten.
"Knowing me, the NBA would have happened anyway eventually," Thomas said. "But it wouldn't have happened this year. Me having the ball in my hands as much as I did was a blessing in disguise. Gaddy and I talk about it all the time. He says, `Man, if this didn't happen to me, you wouldn't be where you are right now.'

"Every team I visited, the first question was always, `Why did you put your name in for the draft?'" Thomas said. "And I told each team the reason was the circumstances of next season at Washington had I stayed. With Gaddy coming back and Wroten coming in, I wouldn't have been able to showcase my skills as (primarily) a point guard, which is the position I will be playing at the next level.

"My stock wouldn't be any higher next year, no matter what I did. A lot of people don't realize all that went into my decision. They just say, `Oh, he should have stayed.' They don't see all the circumstances."

The explanation Thomas gives creates yet another what-if scenario that has to leave fans wondering. Kyrie Irving revealed in May that had he not been able to return from his toe injury during the NCAA tournament, he would have stayed in school.

What Thomas did was present the chain of events that led to his leaving school, and it was ignited when Gaddy went down. Thomas was able to show off his all-around game at point guard and all the while still showed his game on offense. Anyone who heard Gus Johnson's description of his "cold-blooded" buzzer-beating shot to beat Arizona in the Pac-10 tournament championship game knows that.

The Gaddy injury was unfortunate, and few would have guessed it would also lead to Thomas shining to the point that he thought it was his time to go. But with Wroten expected to play major minutes and Gaddy gearing up for a comeback from knee surgery, one can see what Thomas was thinking a little more clearly now.

Isaiah Thomas: East Coast bias is alive, well

February, 16, 2011
In an interview with the Arizona Republic Washington guard Isaiah Thomas was asked if playing on the West Coast hurts his case for being seen as one of the nation's top point guards.

"It definitely does," Thomas said. "Just being on the West Coast, period. Basketball's kind of East Coast biased. There are a lot of politics involved. The games you usually see on TV are from the Big East or games involving the top teams in the country."

The topic had been raised when Thomas was asked if he feels he belongs in a group of elite point guards that includes Connecticut's Kemba Walker, with Thomas replying, "I think so. Kemba Walker is a great point guard, but I feel like I'm up there with him. He does a lot more than I do for my team because that's what he has to do for his team to win. But I feel like I'm one of the best point guards in the country and that has a lot to do with my teammates."

Thomas and Walker are both among the 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, which is annually given to college basketball's top point guard. The 5-foot-9 Thomas has really taken off since backcourt mate Abdul Gaddy went down with a season-ending injury.

Thomas was named Pac-10 player of the week for the third time after recently averaging 22.5 points and five assists while shooting 56.5 percent from the field in wins against Cal and Stanford.