College Basketball Nation: Arsalan Kazemi

1. Oregon is now one-year U. The Ducks under Dana Altman have made a habit of finding players for one season who can make an impact. UNLV's Mike Moser is the latest to choose Oregon in this situation, picking the Ducks over Washington and Gonzaga. Moser, who will be at his third school in his college career after starting out at UCLA, follows Devoe Joseph (Minnesota), Olu Ashaolu (Louisiana Tech) and Arsalan Kazemi (Rice), who all flourished in their one season in Eugene. Adding transfers with more than one year left is also fair game -- the Ducks have taken in Wake Forest's Tony Woods. But credit the Oregon staff, led by Altman, for filling needs. The Ducks have needed mostly big men as their young guards develop; losing E.J. Singler and Kazemi off last season's NCAA team left a glaring opening for a rebounder and a potential inside scorer. If Moser can return to being one of the best on the boards in the country, as he was two seasons ago (an elbow injury slowed him this past season), the Ducks will have the complement needed to young guards Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. Meanwhile, Memphis' Tarik Black was on campus Tuesday and will leave Wednesday for visits to Georgetown, Kansas and Duke, according to a source with direct knowledge -- so the Ducks could add even more to the stable of one-year transfers. As one assistant coach who has recruited these type of players said, the one-year player at the end of his college career is in high demand because he can make more of an impact than an average freshman.

2. The NCAA rules committee, men's basketball tournament selection committee and the National Association of Basketball Coaches board met Tuesday in Indianapolis as one group to discuss the NCAA tournament and any potential rules changes. The rules committee should have a decision on any changes sometime Thursday. NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt and West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, who is on the selection committee, were both present; according to sources, neither has shown signs that his selection as the next commissioner of the new Big East is imminent -- though sources said the new league's presidents are close to a decision. If that is the case and it's not Gavitt, a former Big East associate commissioner, or Zaninovich, a favorite of many in the league, it could be someone from outside the league. That list is broad but could include Tim Brosnan, a Major League Baseball executive. Someone like Brosnan would make sense considering that the new Big East has partnered with Fox, which has a strong relationship with MLB. A few administrators would prefer a strong person in the NCAA membership who has already been a commissioner. But the new Big East presidents -- who also selected former CBS executive Mike Aresco as commissioner of the old Big East, now the American Conference -- were looking for someone with strong television connections. The new Big East needs to get a commissioner soon, with the clock ticking toward fall sports starting and an office, championships, bylaws, scheduling and compliance still to be determined.

3. Next week's NBA draft combine in Chicago could be one of the most intriguing camps because of the parity in the draft and the unknowns beyond some of the top players. The injuries to Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett and Alex Len mean there are even more questions than answers heading into the event. There is hardly a consensus beyond the top three of Noel, Bennett and Ben McLemore. Team workouts will be even more important for so many players who could play their way not just into the first round but into the late lottery. This will be even more of a need draft for teams picking after the top five and looking for a specific position. Which player is the best available will be highly debatable since you could ask 10 people at a given spot and receive 10 different answers.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The best way to explain how good the Louisville pressure is right now? The Cardinals can’t even break it in their own practices.

"We have a tough time when we go up against it," Gorgui Dieng said. "And we know what’s coming."

Rick Pitino has made pesky defense his calling card since the day he broke into coaching, and while the coach has had better, more talented teams, it’s hard to imagine one clicking the way the Cards are as they head into the Sweet 16 game against Oregon on Friday (7:15 p.m. ET).

[+] EnlargeRuss Smith and Rick Pitino
Debby Wong/USA TODAY SportsLouisville guard Russ Smith says coach Rick Pitino has instilled in the team a sense of renewed purpose since the Cardinals last lost on Feb. 9.
Since a five-overtime loss to Notre Dame, UL is beating teams by an average of 21 points per game. No one has gotten closer than 12 points. And that’s including the Big East tournament and two games in the NCAA tournament.

In a season that has had a distinct aversion to dominance, Louisville is about the closest thing right now. One No. 1 seed is gone; one struggled in two games; one struggled in its Round of 32 game.

Louisville hasn’t broken a sweat.

"I think it’s a fair statement [to say we’re playing our best right now]," Russ Smith said. "Coach has really gotten us focused after that loss."

Not that the Cards’ coach will say so. To hear Pitino tell it, Louisville is a good team about to go up against the Dream Team. Pitino continued his parade of praise directed at the Ducks on Thursday, insisting that this will be a "very close game."

It may well be and he may well mean it, but veteran Pitino watchers will tell you that his poor-mouthing of his own team and praise of an opponent often results in a proportionally opposite winning margin.

Which means Oregon could be in for it. And coach Dana Altman knows it.

"We had two games in the NCAA tournament where we turned it over 18 times each night," Altman said. "We’ve got to figure out what the number is that we can live with. I’m hoping 15, 16 is a number we can hold it to."

If that sounds fatalistic, well, it’s probably more realistic. Louisville’s defense is not something you beat so much as you hope to survive.

That goes for Cardinals players, too. The end product now is a thing of disruptive beauty, but the process -- how the sausage is made, so to speak -- isn’t always so lovely.

Rare is the player who comes out of high school committed to playing good defense; nonexistent is the recent grad prepared for Pitino.

"Coach Pitino has never had a perfect player," Luke Hancock said. "So it’s an ongoing process. I think even some four-year guys make mistakes."

Fewer and fewer, it would seem lately.

Louisville has forced 47 turnovers in its first two tourney games -- swiping a tourney-record 20 steals against North Carolina A&T alone.

"I think they’ll have a harder time guarding our half-court stuff," Oregon forward Arsalan Kazemi said. "It’s just a matter of getting the ball across the court."

Which sounds easier than it is.

Ask Gorgui Dieng.

WHO TO WATCH

Louisville’s Chane Behanan (with help from Dieng): One of Oregon’s biggest strengths is on the boards, where the Ducks rank 20th in the nation in rebounding margin. Much of that comes on the back of Kazemi, who averages 9.6 rebounds per game. Behanan and Dieng have to negate that advantage, especially limiting UO’s offensive rebounding.

Oregon’s Dominic Artis: The freshman’s return has made all the difference for the Ducks, who are 21-4 with him in the lineup. He’s been sensational all season, but he has never faced pressure like he’ll see from the Cardinals, never faced anyone quite so quick as Russ Smith. How he handles the frenzy Louisville promises to deliver will determine how well Oregon does.

WHAT TO WATCH

Deflections and turnovers. This isn’t complicated. Louisville has made its living this season off other people’s mistakes, disrupting teams by getting its hands on the ball to either take opponents out of rhythm or swipe the ball altogether. The Cardinals rank second in the nation in steals and forced Colorado State --- a team that doesn’t even cough it up much -- into 19 turnovers. Taking care of the basketball has not been Oregon’s strength -- the Ducks average 15 giveaways a game. If that number doesn’t come down, it could be a long night for Nike U.

STAT TO WATCH

At the risk of beating a dead horse, you’ve got to watch the turnovers for Oregon. Too many is too much trouble for the Ducks. On the flip side, here’s one to watch for the Cardinals -- fouls. Louisville has played very aggressively but very intelligently so far in this tournament. That has to continue.
Burke & Withey & Zeller USA TODAY SportsTrey Burke, Jeff Withey and Cody Zeller are big reasons their teams are in the Sweet 16.
College basketball differs from the pro game in innumerable ways, so for now let's just focus on one: the importance of stars.

In the NBA, especially in the postseason, star power is everything; you can't win a title without at least two All-Stars, preferably three, and hopefully one of them is the world-eating monolith named LeBron James.

The college game is a totally different beast. Sure, having future pros on your team is a good indication of postseason success, but rare is the modern college player so purely talented and savvy and dominant that he can single-handedly carry a team to a title, even against a field comparably depleted of talent. The last time we got close -- when Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the title in 2003 -- came before the one-and-done rule (essentially) forced prep stars to spend a year in college. The most talented player of the one-and-done era thus far was Kevin Durant, a 6-foot-9 guard who shot 41 percent from 3, averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, swept the relevant national player of the year awards and made everyone wonder which tier in space and time had been ripped open to allow a clearly inhuman species the opportunity to play basketball that well. Durant's Longhorns lost to USC in the second round of the 2007 NCAA tournament.

The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats don't apply. Sure, they were highlighted by freshmen, but they were buffeted by sophomores and led by an unselfish senior who willingly came off the bench. They were incredible, but not as revolutionary as you might think

Anyway, this is not a value judgment; it's just how things work. Having savvy seniors who'll never sniff the NBA can change the nature of the postseason just as much as a singular All-Star Weekend-bound talent. It's just where we are in the sport right now.

But that doesn't mean every college player is replaceable. Quite the opposite. In many cases, a handful of this year's Sweet 16 participants rely on players who are utterly indispensable.

Let's look at just five:

1. Trey Burke, Michigan Wolverines: To say Michigan wouldn't be where it is without Burke is like saying you wouldn't be able to read this pixelated text without your eyes, or that I wouldn't have been able to write it without caffeine. He is the computing platform on which the Wolverines run, and without him they would be little more than a Big Blue Screen of Death. It's all pretty obvious stuff, but just in case you need a bit of hard evidence: Burke uses 29.1 percent of the Wolverines' possessions but scores efficiently (51.4 percent from 2, 38.7 percent from 3) all while assisting on 37.1 percent of the possessions he uses. Your average college guard is good at one of these things -- he scores in volume, but not efficiently, or he runs his team's offense but can't shoot, or any combination therein -- but Burke has managed to master it all, keying the second-most-efficient offense in the country and one that turns it over less frequently than any other.

Or, if you're a visual learner, go watch Michigan shred VCU -- a defense that existed and succeeded solely based on its ability to force turnovers -- one more time. Or type "Trey Burke step-back jumper" into your search engine of choice (mine's Altavista). If the Wolverines are going to knock off No. 1-seeded Kansas on Friday night, here's your reason why.

2. Jeff Withey, Kansas. If you took Withey away from Kansas, what would you have? You would have a couple of really good senior guards (Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford), a lottery-pick-level scorer on the wing (Ben McLemore) and a handful of 6-foot-8 or smaller forwards. That's a pretty good team. It is not a national title contender. Here's what you wouldn't have: defense. The Jayhawks ranked among the best defenses in the country this season because they allowed the lowest effective field goal percentage, because they in turn allowed the lowest 2-point field goal percentage, because (deep breath) Withey is an incredible shot-blocker. Kansas opponents shoot 38.7 percent from inside the arc against the Jayhawks. Withey's roving rim protection allows the Jayhawks to get up and into their assignments on the perimeter, safe in the knowledge that even if they get beat, their opponent will usually pull up for the most inefficient shot in basketball: the midrange jumper. That shot-blocking also allowed Kansas to wield the fourth-ranked offense in its own league and still end up with a No. 1 seed. Not too shabby, eh?

3. Cody Zeller, Indiana. Victor Oladipo has long since begun to garner more of the headlines, and not undeservedly so, and that isn't about to change just a few days after Oladipo's late 3-pointer sealed IU's squeaky second-round win. But if you really dig into what the Hoosiers do, it's not hard to see why Zeller is the player they could least afford to lose: their No. 1-ranked offense basically depends on him. It may not always look like it, but Zeller leads the Hoosiers in usage and does so efficiently, and his production this season -- 185-of-245 from the free throw line, 192-of-333 from the field, 12.5 percent offensive rebounding rate, seven fouls drawn per 40 minutes -- just so happen to be all of the areas (shooting, offensive rebounding, free throw attempts) that power the Hoosiers' offensive attack. It's not often a preseason player of the year ends the season underappreciated, but it appears to be happening here.

4. Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast. You can accuse me of getting caught up in FGCU fever if you want to, and hey -- guilty as charged! Everything about FGCU is incredible, right down to the student managers. Oh, but guess what? Comer is actually an incredible passer. You can see evidence of this in any of the dozens of highlights FGCU has created during its postseason run, almost all of which begin with Comer throwing passes with Larry Bird-level intuition and style. You can also see it in the numbers: Comer's assist rate -- the percentage of his possessions that wind up as assists -- is 43.9 percent, third highest in the country. That's higher than any player left in the tournament, including Burke and Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams. There's a reason Comer ended up at FGCU: He can't shoot. But what he can do -- find guys on the break, trick defenders into overcommitting, hit lobs with pinpoint accuracy -- is where this whole Dunk City thing gets its start. Recognize.

5. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State. Ohio State's 10-game winning streak since mid-February has been powered by two things: (A) an improvement from "very good" to "downright horrifying" team defense, and (B) a marked increase in secondary scoring contributions from Sam Thompson, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Aaron Craft. But let's not forget that "secondary" infers a primary, in this case Thomas. For most of the season, Thomas did almost all of the Buckeyes' offensive work (my personal favorite was a loss at Michigan State, when he scored 28 points and no other Buckeye scored more than six), and usually excelled no matter what kind of defensive pressure opposing defenses applied. He took 32.3 percent of his team's shots this season, went 50 percent from inside the arc and 35 percent outside it (and 83.6 percent from the free throw line) and, despite all of those possessions, almost never turns the ball over. Even now, as Ross flashes his immense potential and Thompson goes hunting dunks and Craft pulls last-second 3s out of whatever place Craft comes up with those sorts of things, trying to imagine the Buckeyes without Thomas is difficult. He's a baseline need. Without him, they'd be lost.

Honorable mentions: Mason Plumlee, Russ Smith, Oladipo, Patric Young, Craft, Carter-Williams, Jerrell Wright, Ryan Kelly, Vander Blue, Shane Larkin, Mark Lyons, Cleanthony Early, Gary Harris, Arsalan Kazemi.

Dotson leads hot Ducks to easy win

March, 23, 2013
3/23/13
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Age is just a number. Or in college sports, it's a designation. Same with a seed in the NCAA tournament. It's just a number. Like age, it doesn't define you. How you act defines you. What a team does on the scoreboard defines it.

Take Oregon guard Damyean Dotson. He's a true freshman. But there's no reason he can't score 40 points in his first two tournament games, including a career-high 23 in a dominant 74-57 "upset" victory over Saint Louis.

And there's Dotson's team, Oregon. You might have heard the selection committee put a "No. 12" by it, and controversy ensued: "Bad seed!" just about every one said.

Yet that number -- 12 -- is now merely a curiosity. The one that now truly matters is 16, as in "Sweet." The Ducks, who improved to 28-8, are headed to Indianapolis to face top-seeded Louisville. If Dotson and his teammates play like they did in HP Pavilion, Rick Pitino and the Cardinals should be nervous.

Dotson entered the NCAA tournament averaging 10.8 points per game, which ranked third on his team. He was named to the Pac-12 all-tournament team as the Ducks rolled to the title, averaging 14.7 points. And he's ramped things up even further in do-or-die tourney situations when he and his teammates have been doing a lot of doing.

Damyean Dotson
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Damyean Dotson had his biggest game of the year, scoring a season-high 23 points and adding three rebounds and two steals.
Dotson hits the 3s -- he was 5-of-6 from long range against No. 4 seed Saint Louis -- and his teammates play aggressive defense and crash the boards. The Ducks won the rebounding battle 37-23 against the Billikens after winning it 44-30 against Oklahoma State on Thursday. That effort was led by senior Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi, who essentially split 33 rebounds between the two games. Karemi had seven offensive rebounds against Saint Louis, which had three total offensive rebounds.

As for Dotson, Oregon folks don't seem very surprised he's taken a step up during the postseason. While the foot injury to fellow freshman guard Dominic Artis grabbed headlines during the Ducks' late-season swoon, Dotson also got banged up and his play suffered.

He seems pretty healthy now.

"Dot has made great progress all year and I'm telling you, there's so much more there," coach Dana Altman said. "He and [Artis], they've got so much upside, we're fortunate to have some of those guys, because they've got a lot of upside."

The Ducks grabbed control in the first half with a 21-4 run and took a 35-19 lead into the locker room. They never yielded after the break. They built their advantage to 24 with 6:28 left and coasted home.

When Saint Louis briefly looked to be within striking distance -- four times in the second half the Billikens narrowed the margin to 11 -- Dotson ripped a pair of treys. Fair to say they were deflating to the Billikens.

Dotson was the key player for Oregon in the stat of the game: 3-point shooting. The Ducks hit 8-of-11 3-pointers, while the Billikens were 3-for-21 from behind the arc, hitting just one of their first 17. The Ducks shot well overall, while the Billikens didn't. Nuff said.

"I'm just trying to stay aggressive, offense and defense, and just do whatever Coach tells me," Dotson said. "He tells me to shoot the catch-and-shoots, and that's what I've been doing."

Said Saint Louis coach Jim Crews, whose team finished 28-7, the most wins in program history: "[Dotson is] a good athlete -- he's got great touch. We didn't get him off of shot spots like we wanted to. And sometimes it looked like we had pretty good pressure on him. He's long and really has a good lift on it, which is a little unorthodox, but you can't complain with the results if you're an Oregon fan."

Nope. Nor will many Oregon fans continue to fret that ole 12th seed.

The Ducks last reached the Elite Eight in 2007. To get there again, they need to eclipse No. 1.

Hey, it's just a number.

 
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The NCAA hasn't had a good year. In fact, it's been on a poor run for a few years now. Still, the men's basketball tournament is the organization's annual shining beacon. It's a time when the term "NCAA" is used and not immediately preceded -- or followed -- by an expletive.

Ah, but even here the NCAA can't catch a break. As in: Did you hear about the tournament selection committee giving Oregon a No. 12 seed? Yeah, a 26-win team -- 4-1 versus the top 25 -- that is fresh off a Pac-12 tournament title run.

Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford managed to grin Thursday when asked about the Ducks' controversial seeding. His fifth-seeded team had just been dominated by Oregon 68-55 in a second-round Midwest Regional whipping.

"We ran into a very hot team," he said. "A very hot team."

Were the Ducks poorly seeded by the committee?

"I think they would admit to that," Ford said.

The Ducks used an 8-0 run to take an early lead, and the Cowboys didn't put up much of a challenge in the second half, never cutting the margin to single digits.

Oregon, now 27-8, won with dogged defense, rebounding and superior depth. It shut down Oklahoma State's All-America guard Marcus Smart, and the offensively challenged Cowboys struggled to pick up the slack.

Smart, who hurt his right hand in the second half, had 14 points, but shot 5-of-13 from the field. He had more turnovers (five) than assists (four).

"I let my team down," the freshman said.

[+] EnlargeDamyean Dotson
AP Photo/Ben MargotFreshman Damyean Dotson led all scorers with 17 points as Oregon charged into the round of 32.
Before the game, the story was how the Ducks' smaller guards would be able to deal with the physical Smart. After the game, the story was the Ducks' superior quickness.

Said Ducks guard Dominic Artis, who had four steals: "We tried to keep him real uncomfortable with what he likes to do."

Oregon, which will face No. 4 seed Saint Louis in the round of 32 on Saturday at HP Pavilion, outrebounded the Cowboys 44-30, including a 14-4 advantage on the offensive glass. Coach Dana Altman called those numbers "the difference in the game."

"That was the one area where we felt we could dominate the game," he said.

The Ducks' depth was also an advantage. While the Cowboys looked lost with Smart struggling, Oregon thrived despite leading scorer E.J. Singler and Pac-12 tournament Most Outstanding Player Johnathan Loyd combining for just 13 points. Freshman Damyean Dotson offered up a game-high 17 points -- 3-for-9 from 3-point range -- and Carlos Emory added 12. Senior Arsalan Kazemi had 11 and, more important, led the charge on the boards with 17 rebounds.

"Sometimes my teammates tell me I grab their rebounds," the Iranian-born forward said. "I apologize to them."

The Ducks' bench outscored Oklahoma State's 17-9. They also had a 12-6 advantage in second-chance points.

As for the 12th seed, Oregon had downplayed the subject during pregame news conferences, essentially saying it was just glad to be in the tournament. After all, the Ducks hadn't even received an invitation since 2008, last winning a game during an Elite Eight run in 2007.

Even after the victory, Altman didn't act like a wronged party.

"We downplayed it because we weren't going to change it," he said. "There was nothing we could do about it."

Well, other than beat the 5-seed by 13 points and look like a team that still might not yet be done in the tourney.
1. Florida is that good.

Yes, Missouri was missing leading scorer Laurence Bowers, and yes, the game was in Gainesville. Even so, what Florida did to Missouri on Saturday -- an 83-52 stomping that began in the first minute and never relented -- was an explosive statement of purpose from a team that should be regarded as one of the best in the country.

It's not just the demolition of Mizzou, though that was a nice data point to add to the rest. It's how Florida has played all season. Entering Saturday, the Gators ranked No. 1 overall in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings, with the No. 2 offense and the No. 2 defense.

After four games, the Gators are outscoring their SEC opponents to the tune of 0.42 points per trip. The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats, which went 16-0 in SEC regular-season play, finished the season with a 0.26 efficiency margin, the most dominant performance any conference champion posted in any league last season. Playing this well in a down SEC, it's not ridiculous to think UF could do the same.

2. Michael Carter-Williams is a quick study.

Carter-Williams arrived at Syracuse last season as a highly touted shooting guard -- a lanky 6-foot-6 wing player who would, as soon as he was able to break into a loaded backcourt, add to SU's heavily stocked arsenal of scorers. But Jim Boeheim needed a point guard, so that's what Carter-Williams has been -- one of the best point guards in the country.

On Saturday, MCW had to learn on the job again. Against a relentless Louisville defense, one that forces the second-most turnovers per possession of any defense in the country, Carter-Williams initially struggled. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva forced him into turnover after turnover, and at several points, particularly early in the second half, it appeared as if the Cardinals were going to force enough giveaways to pull away from a more-than-game Syracuse opposition.

But Carter-Williams, who woke up Saturday with the nation's third-highest assist rate, quickly tidied things up. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Carter-Williams had eight turnovers in the first 32:30, but none in the final 7:30. He also accounted for Syracuse's final 13 points, scoring 11 of them and assisting on the other two.

In the closing moments, MCW's most underrated ability -- forcing steals -- got him a run-out, which he finished with a fast-break dunk that, but for a wild series of late possessions, gave the No. 6 Orange the slim but decisive edge they needed to topple No. 1 Louisville on the road. It was an impressive performance by Boeheim's team in many regards, but no one was more impressive in the biggest moments of the game than Syracuse's infinitely adept sophomore.

3. Wichita State can really guard.

The Creighton Bluejays are one of the nation's best offensive basketball teams. This season they've averaged 1.20 points per possession on offense, fourth-best in the country. They entered Saturday with the nation's highest 2-point (56.9 percent) and 3-point (45.4) field goal marks. They have a host of efficient role players who can beat you inside and out, and in Doug McDermott, they feature not only college basketball's most dynamic scorer but also one of its most efficient and versatile.

And on Saturday, the Shockers made them look utterly average.

Granted, a road trip to a good Wichita State was always a tall order for Creighton; one doubts Greg McDermott and his staff will come away from this hard-fought loss -- wherein 46 percent 3-point specialist Ethan Wragge missed two good looks to tie the game on the final two possessions -- all that angry or upset. In some regard, Creighton deserves credit for hanging in and nearly forcing overtime in a brutal road environment. But it was impossible to watch Gregg Marshall's team guard for 40 minutes and not be thoroughly impressed. The Shockers fought through every screen, bumped every cutter, pressured McDermott early without giving up too many open looks to his cohorts and grabbed 70 percent of the available defensive rebounds. Creighton, usually so ruthlessly clinical, never really found its rhythm.

[+] EnlargeArsalan Kazemi
AP Photo/Reed SaxonArsalan Kazemi was again in the thick of it for Oregon, here pulling down one of his 11 boards.
4. Oregon is Arizona's true Pac-12 challenger.

Since last spring, when UCLA coach Ben Howland locked down the nation's best recruiting class, the 2013 Pac-12 was prospectively seen as a duel between the conference's great old powers, Arizona and UCLA. Though the Bruins stumbled early in the season, they have played much better since. Led by the intuitive offensive brilliance of hyper-hyped guard Shabazz Muhammad, they entered Saturday having won 10 in a row. In other words, don't get me wrong: UCLA is not to be taken lightly.

It's just that, well, it's now officially time to anoint Arizona's true competition for the 2013 Pac-12. That team is the Oregon Ducks.

Oregon's win at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon was made all the more impressive by how well UCLA has been scoring lately. This is a team that had averaged 1.14 points per possession in its 10-game winning streak. The Ducks shut that whole thing down, holding UCLA to just 0.93 points per trip and cinching the defense ever tighter as the minutes counted off in the second half.

It's hard to say too much about the job Dana Altman has done in just his third season in Eugene, and it's impossible to say enough about what Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi gives Oregon on the defensive end. Before Saturday, Kazemi ranked second in the country in defensive rebounding rate (31.2 percent) and 17th in steals percentage (5.1), the only player in college basketball remotely so adept at rebounding and forcing steals. The Iranian national's insertion into a tough, veteran UO lineup has made all the difference, and now the Ducks -- already a winner over Arizona -- are chasing a Pac-12 title.

5. Arizona State is not there yet.

Over the past few weeks, a soft but steady murmur has broken out among the college-hoops cognoscenti: Watch out for Arizona State. And rightfully so. After the disaster that was 2011-12 -- when ASU finished 10-21 and No. 223 in the KenPom rankings -- through Friday the Sun Devils were 14-3, No. 83 in the efficiency rankings and, at the risk of being obvious, just way way way better at basketball in every possible regard. It was a reality we all slowly woke up to, the idea that Arizona State, so bad a season ago, was not only improved but might actually find its way into the NCAA tournament. All it really needed was a quality win, and what better opportunity than in-state rival and basketball big brother Arizona -- in Tempe, no less?

Not so much. The Sun Devils fought valiantly for much of the game before Arizona recognized a weakness -- point guard Jahii Carson, the real engineer of the ASU turnaround, was playing with three fouls. Arizona started penetrating at Carson constantly, forcing the talented redshirt freshman into matador defense. When he picked up his fourth, the Sun Devils fell flat. As Wildcats senior Solomon Hill told the AP: "He's the heart of the team. They've only got six or seven guys, and it's a big drop-off when Jahii's out of the game."

It's a disappointing result for the Sun Devils fans, many of whom are just coming in from the (totally figurative) cold and getting excited about the program again. But it was a reminder of how important Carson is to Arizona State and how, if this team plans to get to the postseason, it needs to keep him on the floor at all costs.

Extras:
  • I'm having a difficult time wrapping my head around Temple. The Owls beat Syracuse in Madison Square Garden and pushed Kansas to the limit in Lawrence. They also lost at home to Canisius and, today, fell in Philly to St. Bonaventure 81-78. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that was the Bonnies' first-ever victory at Temple. They were 0-30 all-time in the Owls' building, and the last time they beat them anywhere was Jan. 16, 2002. I admit it: The Owls flummoxes me. I am flummoxed.
  • Ole Miss improved to 4-0 in the SEC with a 76-64 win over Arkansas on Saturday. Here's a crazy stat for you: This is Rebels' best SEC start since -- get this -- 1937.
  • How bad is West Virginia? That was a promising team on preseason paper, but the Mountaineers struggled out of the gate and haven't improved since. On Saturday, they fell to 8-9 overall with a 79-52 loss at Purdue, where they had as many turnovers (17) as made field goals. Yikes.
  • Kansas State handled a really solid Oklahoma team at home to stay unbeaten in Big 12 play. There is absolutely nothing remotely flashy about the Wildcats or the Sooners, but K-State might be the second-best team in the conference and Oklahoma looks like a top-half Big 12 outfit.
  • Georgetown's offensive woes -- the Hoyas are one of the better defensive teams in the country but just … can't … score -- continued today. They lost 61-58 at South Florida.
  • Speaking of offensive woes, Texas might be getting better on the offensive end -- Sheldon McClellan has developed into a real threat even without suspended point guard Myck Kabongo -- but the Longhorns are still very much a work in offensive progress. That said, they really guard people. It is natural to assume that a team that is 8-9 overall and 0-4 in the Big 12 is going to be an easy win for most of the league. Not at all. Kansas had to battle late to get out of Austin with a win, and plenty of Big 12 teams won't be so lucky.
  • If someone wants to start a Kickstarter to buy me a second or third television, feel free. If college basketball insists on having great games simultaneously every Saturday, this may be the only way. What an afternoon, huh?
Already this season, Arizona's toughest games -- a schedule that, while not a murderer's row, has been tougher than you might think -- have been as follows:
  • At home versus Colorado, when Sabatino Chen hit the banked-in-and-later-called-off game-winning 3 heard 'round the world. Arizona later won in overtime.
  • In Hawaii, when Arizona guard Nick Johnson made a crazy block to stop San Diego State guard Chase Tapley's seemingly wide-open game-winning layup.
  • At Clemson in November, when the young Wildcats struggled to pull away (they eventually did, winning by 12).
  • And at home versus Florida, when Arizona raced to the finish to get a one-point victory in a game the Gators had largely controlled.
These are difficult games. Arizona has been obviously lucky to win at least one of them -- hello, Colorado -- and deserving of praise for securing the others.

And I don't think any of them will be as tough as what's in store Thursday night.

Why? Well, for one, as far as we can tell, the Ducks are pretty good. Potentially really good. Oregon currently ranks No. 26 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings primarily thanks to their defense, which is holding opponents to just .83 points per possession thus far this season.

Some of that figure has to do with competition -- besides UNLV and Cincinnati a road game at UTEP (a triple-OT loss, no less), Oregon's schedule has been pretty weak. But even with that factored in, the Ducks present a force that is almost entirely antithetical to the image of their most famous current program, Chip Kelly's football team. Kelly's style thrives on speed and finesse and skill, which feels appropriate for a team with a gazillion Nike-drafted uniform combinations. Dana Altman's group, on the other hand, plays a bit like Frank Martin's teams at Kansas State. They don't shoot the ball well, and they turn it over too much on offense, but they defend like crazy, they protect the rim, and what they lack in offensive touch they make up for with one of the best offensive rebounding rates in the country. Whereas last year's Ducks were formless and blasÚ, this year's group, for better or worse, has an identity.

Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi is the linchpin in this transformation. Kazemi, the first Iranian-born Division I college basketball player in American hoops history, flew under the radar for three seasons at Rice despite being one of the nation's best rebounders and defenders. This season -- after becoming eligible via a hardship transfer waiver -- Kazemi has only improved. He grabs 31.4 percent of his team's available defensive rebounds, the highest mark in the country, and 12.4 on the offensive end. His 6.2 steals per 100 possessions ranks him fifth among all Division I basketball players.

Oregon has gotten improvements and new contributions from a handful of guys -- freshman Dominic Artis is still inefficient on offense but can really defend, and freshman wingman Damyean Dotson has had a really nice season thus far. But Kazemi, an unmovable force on the low block, who is also nimble enough to force steals on the perimeter, is the change that put this defense over the top.

That's what makes this game so tough for Arizona, but it's not like the Wildcats don't have the talent to get the job done. In fact, Sean Miller has one of the nation's most enviable blends of cross-class talent: Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom are his senior cornerstones. Nick Johnson is his smooth-scoring sophomore. Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Grant Jerrett -- all forwards 6-foot-8 or taller, and all excellent rebounders -- are his highly touted freshmen.

The ways in which Arizona has won its most important games of the season have caused some to suspect the Wildcats of being overrated. After all, when games come down to one or two points scored on final possessions, doesn't the outcome have at least something to do with luck? Well, sure. That was especially true of Colorado, obviously -- the Buffaloes should have won that game -- but the Florida and San Diego State wins can not be boiled down to "they just wanted it more" as easily as some fans would have you believe.

But going too far in that counterintuitive direction would be a mistake, too. Arizona may have won a few games by the skin of its teeth, but that doesn't invalidate what this team has already accomplished on a per-possession basis. They may not be the fourth-best team in the country right now, but they are talented enough to get there sooner rather than later, and more than talented enough to make a deep NCAA tournament run.

That's why Thursday night's trip to Eugene is so very crucial. The Ducks are by far the best team Arizona has played on the road to date. They are strong and physical and don't need to score all that well to keep the game close. They will have a great crowd on their side, a crowd ready to come at the No. 4 team in the country -- the old, easy-to-hate elite program that used to dominate the Pac-12 with such ruthless efficiency.

It's a real test, but the answer is about more than a win or a loss. It's how the Wilcdats respond to the challenge in the first place. That will tell us more than which way the ball rolls in the final seconds -- for better and for worse.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

December, 21, 2012
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Is there any league in the country where the drop-off from No. 1 to No. 2 is so significant? At least the Big 12 has a ranked team (Oklahoma State) chasing Kansas. In the Pac-12 it's Arizona and then, well ... no one. Here are this week's power rankings.

1. Arizona. The Wildcats open play against East Tennessee State in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Saturday and could face a tough test against an underrated Miami squad in the second round. If the bracket holds form, Arizona would play San Diego State in the title game on Christmas Day.

2. Colorado. UCLA, Oregon and Cal have all been in the No. 2 slot at some point this season -- and so has Colorado, which is making its return despite a 36-point loss to Kansas on Dec. 8. Spencer Dinwiddie is a finalist for the Cousy Award. Andre Roberson averages 12.3 rebounds, which ranks third nationally.

3. Oregon. The Ducks lost at UTEP on Wednesday in three overtimes, but Dana Altman still has to be encouraged with the direction of this team -- and this program. Arsalan Kazemi has three double-doubles in his past five games.

4. UCLA. There is too much talent in Westwood to write off the Bruins this early. UCLA has won four of its past five games, with the only setback coming against San Diego State. A victory over Fresno State on Saturday seems likely. Shabazz Muhammad (17.8 points) and Jordan Adams (17.5) are both putting up impressive offensive numbers.

5. Oregon State. What has happened to Ahmad Starks? The point guard who had 25 points in a single-digit loss to Kansas on Nov. 30 is averaging just 7.5 points in his past four contests. Oregon State should beat its next three opponents (San Diego, Towson and Texas-Pan American) before opening Pac-12 play at home against Oregon on Jan. 6.

6. Cal. Last weekend's loss to Creighton marked the third loss in a three-game skid (since snapped with a win over UC Santa Barbara) for Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears, whose best victory is against Georgia Tech at the DIRECTV Classic.

7. Stanford. The Cardinal have played four upper-level teams (Missouri, Minnesota, Belmont and North Carolina State) and lost each time. In other words, unless you count Northern Iowa, Johnny Dawkins' squad has yet to win a game that will impress the NCAA tournament committee.

8. Washington. The Huskies have won five of their past six games thanks, in large part, to C.J. Wilcox. Washington's leading scorer averages 19.2 points. Even more impressive are his figures from the Huskies' last two games: 21 points, 4.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 2 steals.

9. Arizona State. I still can't shake the image of the Sun Devils getting destroyed at home by DePaul. But hey, everyone has a bad night, right? There is still plenty to like about this team -- mainly point guard Jahii Carson (17.9 points, 5.3 assists), forward Jordan Bachynski (4.8 blocks) and small forward Carrick Felix (15.1 points, 7.5 rebounds).

10. Utah. The Utes avenged an early-season loss to SMU by defeating the Mustangs 62-53 Tuesday in Salt Lake City. Jarred DuBois averages team-highs in points (13.8) and assists (3.2). Jordan Loveridge averages 11.7 points and 7.2 rebounds.

11. Washington State. The Cougars have won five of their past six games. Brock Motum (20.4 points) and DaVonte Lacy (10.1) form a nice 1-2 punch. Going .500 in Pac-12 play might be enough to save Ken Bone's job.

12. USC. The Trojans have way too much talent to be playing as poorly as they did in Thursday's home loss to UC Irvine. Wake Forest transfer J.T. Terrell, who was supposed to be USC's savior, has been benched for his poor defensive effort.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

November, 30, 2012
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Ranking the Pac-12 is far from the unenviable task it was last season, when the league was filled with mediocre teams that drew minimal interest both locally and nationally. It might be too early to label the current Pac-12 as "strong," but almost every team has made marked improvements, which should make for an entertaining season -- and definitely one worth following. Here's how the conference looks after three weeks.

1. Arizona. Even without an attention-grabbing victory, putting the Wildcats in the top slot was an easy decision -- mainly because UCLA is floundering. Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill each average 14 points, and freshmen forwards Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley are grabbing a collective 13.8 rebounds.

2. Cal. The Golden Bears are 6-0, but we'll find out a lot more about Mike Montgomery's squad in the coming weeks. Cal plays at Wisconsin on Sunday before hosting UNLV (Dec. 9) and Creighton (Dec. 15). Allen Crabbe (22 ppg) and Justin Cobbs (20) have been huge on the offensive end.

3. Colorado. The undefeated Buffaloes may have been a notch higher if they didn't need double overtime to defeat Texas Southern on Tuesday. Forwards Andre Roberson and Josh Scott generate the most headlines, but guards Askia Booker (16.8 ppg) and Spencer Dinwiddie (14.8) lead the team in scoring.

4. Oregon. The Ducks' win over then-No. 18 UNLV was one of the top two victories for the Pac-12 this season, with Colorado’s upset of Baylor being the other. Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi got on track in Thursday’s win over Texas-San Antonio. His line: 20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 5 steals.

5. Stanford. Last season’s NIT champion went 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but there were still plenty of reasons to be encouraged. Setbacks against Missouri and Minnesota -- both of whom are ranked -- came by single digits. Guard Chasson Randle averages a team-high 15.4 points but shoots just 35.6 percent from the field.

6. UCLA. Two Bruins players (Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith) left the team during the past week. The departures may actually help the chemistry on a squad that lost to Cal Poly on Sunday before bouncing back with a convincing win over Cal State Northridge on Wednesday. Freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson combined for 29 points.

7. Arizona State. Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek is known for his slow-paced, low-scoring offenses. But this season Arizona State is pushing the ball thanks to the addition of freshman point guard Jahii Carson, who leads the team in scoring (19 ppg) and assists (5.5). As a team, the Sun Devils are averaging 77.2 points and own a nice win over Arkansas.

8. Oregon State. Could this be the year the Beavers make the NCAA tournament? Craig Robinson’s squad boasts quality wins over Purdue and New Mexico State, and it came within three points of Alabama. Ahmad Starks is averaging 14.6 points -- but only 7.3 in his past three games. Oregon State has a huge opportunity to prove itself Friday, when it plays Kansas in Kansas City.

9. USC. The Trojans’ roster is filled with transfers, so it's understandable that the cohesion just isn't there yet. Still, USC's two most recent losses (to Marquette and San Diego State) came by an average of seven points, so it's not as if Kevin O'Neill's squad isn't competitive. This could look like a completely different team in a month.

10. Washington. Last season’s regular-season champion was decimated when two players (Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross) left school early for the NBA draft and showed it in a home loss to Albany. Forward Aziz N'Diaye is averaging a double-double with 11.3 points and 10.5 rebounds. The fact Washington, coming off a quality win over Saint Louis, is No. 10 in these rankings speaks to the competitiveness of the Pac-12.

11. Washington State. The Cougars' season was basically over the day Ken Bone kicked point guard Reggie Moore off the team. Washington State didn't have a replacement. Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge is trying his hardest, but he's averaging just 6.9 points while shooting 35 percent from the field. He should be a role player, not a starter. Bone, though, doesn't have any choice.

12. Utah. The Utes are better than last season, but they're still considered the worst team in the league along with Washington State. Utah lost to Larry Brown's SMU squad 62-55 in Dallas on Wednesday. Dallin Bachynski, a 7-footer from Calgary, averages 11.5 points (second on the team) and 9.0 rebounds (first).
Overview: For the first 13 minutes of the Global Sports Classic finale, it looked as if a demure and mostly dispersed Thomas & Mack Center crowd wasn't going to get much in return for its decision to eschew the Vegas sports books. Cincinnati came out hot, poured in 3s from the perimeter, and ran up a 33-14 lead by the under-8-minutes timeout. But Oregon didn't go away. Through the rest of the of the first half and through the second, the Ducks clamped down on defense and slowly but surely clawed their way back from the dead -- taking their first lead, at 54-52, with 7:40 left in the game.

Turning point: Cincinnati desperately needed a bucket. Oregon had tightened its defense and worked its way back in the game, and the hot shooting that had opened up the early lead had abandoned the Bearcats. Oregon had just taken its first lead, thanks to three straight Arsalan Kazemi steals on high pick-and-roll defense.

That's when Titus Rubles made a jumper, then assisted Jermaine Sanders on an open 3. On the next possession, Rubles got to the free-throw line and knocked down two, then came back again and dropped another long 2-pointer. Suddenly, the Bearcats were back up by seven, 61-54, and had weathered the storm.

[+] EnlargeTitus Rubles
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonTitus Rubles scored 13 points, including 8 during Cincinnati's key second-half run.
Why Cincinnati won: It made its 3s, and chased down its misses. The Bearcats' hot start put them in advantageous position early, and they finished 11-of-24 from beyond the arc. But when they went through that long drought in the middle of the game, the Bearcats survived because they frequently found offensive rebounds and the second possessions they grant. Cincinnati finished with a 45.4 offensive rebounding percentage.

Why Oregon lost: It started the game in a deep hole, and its offense was never good enough to catch up. Bottom line: When you trail 33-14 at the eight-minute mark of the first half, it's going to be hard to win that basketball game. And if you do come back, you have to be pretty great offensively to do so. The Ducks got to the free-throw line a lot -- 29 times, to be exact -- but they went 29.4 percent from 3 and 34.5 percent from the field overall. It was pretty ugly stuff.

Star(s) of the game: As mentioned above, Cincinnati guard Rubles scored eight of the Bearcats' 10 points during the decisive second-half stretch. Meanwhile, Cashmere Wright went 5-of-9 from beyond the arc -- including one deep rattler that more than sealed the game in the closing minutes -- and with the possible exception of Kazemi was pretty clearly the best player on the floor.

What it means for Cincinnati: The Bearcats have yet to knock off a truly elite opponent, but that's about the only negative thing you could say about their start to the season thus far. Cincinnati has handled its business, and looked good doing so. If this form keeps up, the Bearcats can push the best of the Big East for the title. They're looking every bit as solid as expected.

What it means for Oregon: If you're Dana Altman, you probably wish your team finished the final 10 minutes of Saturday night's game with a bit more oomph. And you probably wish you didn't fall behind by 19 in the first half. But you can't really walk away from this tournament with anything but positive impressions. Kazemi looks predictably good, Dominic Artis is already playing well, and -- oh by the way -- you got a resume win no one expected, over UNLV on its own home floor. Altman will have this team improving throughout the season, but they're already looking vastly improved over last year's milquetoast effort.

What’s next: Cincinnati has a week off before one of its best nonconference fixtures of the season, a home date against a solid (and just as physical/athletic) Alabama team. Oregon is essentially past the best opponents on its nonconference schedule. Coming up is UTSA, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Idaho State, Nebraska and a trip to UTEP. It would have been nice to notch another win over a ranked team, sure, but coming away from Vegas with that win over UNLV? That's a big-time victory.

Global Sports Classic primer

November, 21, 2012
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An intriguing doubleheader between four teams that aren’t headline-grabbers yet but soon could be. Iowa State’s reclamation project of transferring players continues to work well for Fred Hoiberg, though this will be the Cyclones' first real test. Cincinnati, a national sleeper team, has done nothing to discredit itself while Oregon has done plenty to turn heads, destroying Vanderbilt. And UNLV started the season with a scare, nearly losing an exhibition game to Dixie State, but has rebounded nicely.

The basics: Nov. 23-24, Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas

The set matchups: Iowa State vs. Cincinnati, 6:30 p.m.; Oregon vs. UNLV, 9 p.m.

[+] EnlargeKorie Lucious
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa State needs Korie Lucious to get on track shooting the ball.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Korie Lucious, Iowa State The Michigan State transfer is playing well for Hoiberg, using his playmaking skills to dish out an impressive 6.7 assists per game. The catch: He giveth and taketh, coughing up 4.3 turnovers. His consistency is huge for the Cyclones this year.

Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati The undeniable leader of Mick Cronin’s tripe-threat backcourt, Kilpatrick has stormed out of the gate. He’s averaging 21 points, but the sharpshooter has been especially sharp, blistering the nets on 55 percent of his 3-pointers.

Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon Granted his hardship waiver just last week, the Rice transfer is a huge boost for the Ducks. He’s got size and strength, both on display in his brief season debut where he picked up seven rebounds. They need them all. Oregon is averaging only 35 boards a game.

Mike Moser, UNLV Thanks to a strong cast of very good freshmen around him, Moser doesn’t have to do nearly as much for the Rebels. That doesn’t mean he can’t. He’s still averaging a double-double 10.5 points and boards.

Anthony Bennett, UNLV The freshman has been as good, if not better than advertised. He leads the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring -- 17 points per game, with eight rebounds to boot.

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS

Will anyone play defense? All four of these teams are scoring like gangbusters -- Oregon is the slacker, chipping in 79 points per game. But if a doubleheader track meet breaks out, who has the defensive stamina to seal the victory? It may not matter. It may be a who-has-the-ball-last-wins sort of tourney.

How good are UNLV’s freshmen? So far, so very good for Anthony Bennett, Katin Reinhardt and Savon Goodman, but the quality of competition jumps considerably here. There’s no doubt this team is going to be something special, but this will be a critical two nights for the Rebels' learning curve.

Are the Ducks for real? That’s pretty much the crux of it. Oregon’s 26-point win over Vanderbilt was a huge eye-opener to the potential of this team, but is there something there that can be sustained? Can Oregon really factor into the Pac-12 race? Against the caliber of teams here, the Ducks will at least get a better understanding if not an altogether solid answer.

How solid are the Cincinnati bigs? We know how good the backcourt is; that was obvious a year ago and the trio of Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker and Sean Kilpatrick continues to lead the way for the Bearcats. But Cincinnati also is going to need some reliable production out of its new cast of big men at some point. A potential matchup against UNLV could give them ample opportunity.

What’s up with Korie Lucious’ shooting touch? Lucious has been terrific as a playmaker for Iowa State, dishing out 6.7 assists per game much to the delight of Hoiberg. But if the Cyclones are going to be a factor in Vegas and especially in the Big 12, he needs to score. He started the season in a terrific slump, 7-of-29.

THE PICKS

Friday: Cincinnati over Iowa State; UNLV over Oregon
Saturday's title game: Cincinnati over UNLV

Arsalan Kazemi waiver huge for Oregon

November, 15, 2012
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Big time news for Oregon Ducks and coach Dana Altman this afternoon, as the NCAA has granted Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi's hardship waiver request, ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported:
The Ducks staff was informed Thursday afternoon and relayed the news in a text to ESPN.com. If Kazemi didn't receive the waiver, his plan was to sit out the year rather than declare for the NBA draft or seek a contract overseas, according to a source. A transfer from Rice who had been practicing with Oregon, Kazemi will be eligible to play Friday night against Vanderbilt. He missed Oregon's first two games.

The ruling is a bit surprising, given that Kazemi's hardship request didn't come as the strict result of the NCAA's stated purpose for such waivers, i.e. financial hardship or the illness of a family member. For Kazemi, the first Iranian-born Division 1 men's basketball player in history, the concept of moving closer to home to play college hoops obviously does not apply. But Kazemi's teammate, Omar Oraby, won a waiver to play at USC right away; Oraby and Kazemi were two of six players who left Rice last season. Somewhere in there, the NCAA apparently found enough to grant. And, confusing as the entire hardship waiver process has become, it would have been hard to grant one without the other.

Anyway, the decision is massive for Oregon: Kazemi has been one of the nation's most underrated players for the last two years, a dominant rebounder and interior finisher. In 2012 Kazemi finished third in the country in defensive rebounding percentage and eighth in free throw rate, while playing in a conference (CUSA) with its fair share of physical bigs. He'll be a force from his first possessions in Eugene.

Dana Altman lost six of last year's 10 rotation players this offseason. He kept forward E.J. Singler and Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods, and he'll add freshman point guard Dominic Artis. Without Kazemi, that's another so-so to borderline-rebuilding season in store for the Ducks, with a tournament finish on the very high upside of the team's projection. With Kazemi, that's a much more well-rounded team, one that can score and rebound and push the higher edges of the Pac-12 on a nightly basis.

So, no, Oregon won't quibble with the legislative nuts and bolts of the decision. They'll be too busy rejoicing.
1. Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi has proven to be better than advertised so far for Oregon. The Ducks coaching staff has found him to be an elite rebounder, the most physical player on the team, and possessing a high basketball IQ. He has picked up the Oregon system quickly. Now, the question is will he be eligible for this season? Oregon is awaiting word on Kazemi’s waiver to play immediately instead of sitting out the season. The Ducks are hoping to hear by the end of this week or at the latest by next week before the season opener against Northern Arizona on Nov. 10.

2. There has been no movement for Pitt to play West Virginia in the near future in either football or men’s basketball. Scheduling in the Big 12 and the ACC could prevent the two schools from renewing their rivalry. Pitt has a pecking order in football of keeping Penn State first. And in men’s basketball the Panthers must keep a game with Duquesne. West Virginia’s nine-game schedule in the Big 12 and Pitt’s preference for Penn State first make it more difficult. The best-case scenario for this rivalry to continue would be for the two schools to come up with a similar solution to Florida and Florida State. The two Sunshine State rivals play a basketball game on the same weekend they play a football game. Creating a one-weekend event would make the most sense -- if the two sides could agree to a format and possible site rotation.

3. San Diego coach Billy Grier has led quite a turnaround for the Toreros, who were picked fifth in the WCC poll behind Gonzaga, BYU, Saint Mary’s and Loyola Marymount. San Diego, a year removed from a point-shaving scandal being uncovered, finished four-straight seasons under .500 in the WCC after reaching the NCAA tournament and beating UConn in 2008. Grier is high on his backcourt and loves his depth inside, but they need to defend. He said he has a sleeper inside in 6-9 Dutch freshman Jito Kok. Meanwhile, Grier added another wrinkle to what he’d like to see in terms of possible punishment for coaches after the NCAA adopted a tougher penalty for a head coach if a violation occurs on the staff: “I wish they could come up with a way to clean up tampering,’’ said Grier.

3-point shot: Kazemi seeks hardship waiver

September, 24, 2012
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1. Arsalan Kazemi will seek a waiver allowing him to play immediately at Oregon this season instead of sitting out the year. I’m very interested to hear what could be the hardship he has endured to justify him not having to sit out. Once Kazemi left Rice he had to choose a quarter-system school if he wanted to play this season or at the very least the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Kazemi couldn’t sit idle and wait until December. Rice isn’t expected to fight Kazemi’s waiver. No one forced Kazemi to leave after his junior season. He was free to leave. But the NCAA will likely need some strong evidence to grant a waiver in this case.

2. NC State coach Mark Gottfried, fresh off signing his new six-year contract, said there was definitely a new bounce in the step for freshman Rodney Purvis. Purvis received clearance last week to play this season instead of just practicing. Gottfried said that Purvis’ position was the missing piece on the Wolfpack’s trip to Spain in August.

3. Meanwhile, UCLA is still waiting on eligibility decisions on freshmen Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad. There is still time and if either or both are cleared by Oct. 12 or even Nov. 9 then no one will think twice about the prolonged clearance process. If they get game penalties or worse than it will have a dramatic effect on the Bruins’ season.

Rice transfer could be major pickup

September, 19, 2012
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For the past three seasons, Rice forward Arsalan Kazemi has toiled in relative obscurity. This has been the case despite Kazemi's fascinating back story -- he's the first native Iranian to play Division I basketball, at a time of incredible international diplomatic strife between Iran and the United States, no less -- as well as his very productive career to date.

That's what happens when you play for Rice, a low-profile C-USA program that has been steadily rebuilding under fifth-year coach Ben Braun, but which has yet to register in any significant way on the national hoops scene. Kazemi has been very good, even great, but how many college hoops fans have heard of him?

Which seems to be precisely the reason Kazemi, with one year of eligibility left, has decided to make a change. On Monday, CBS Sports reported that Kazemi had been granted his release by Rice. Late Tuesday night, Kazemi told SI's Luke Winn that Kentucky and Oregon were his top two options, and that he was also considering Cincinnati, Florida, Ohio State and Texas.

That list of schools speaks to the general impression college coaches have of Kazemi's abilities, and with good reason. In 2012, the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds for Rice, and his efficiency stats painted an even more flattering picture: Kazemi posted a 114.6 offensive rating, a true shooting percentage of 62.8 percent, the third-highest defensive rebounding percentage in the country (29.0) and drew a ton of fouls, posting an 80.8 percent free throw rate, the eighth-highest percentage in the country. And while C-USA isn't the Big Ten, competition-wise, this isn't the classic case of a big forward simply overmatching his low-major opponents, inflating his stats along the way. Kazemi is the real deal.

Where he'll end up, and when, remain questions. Luke notes that among his listed schools, Oregon is the only place that has yet to begin fall classes (those start on Sept. 24) which could have an impact on his decision if he applies for an NCAA hardship waiver. It's hard to see exactly how Kazemi would qualify for a waiver to play immediately; his decision seems to be based solely on his desire to gain a higher profile in the hoops world. But even if he has to sit for a year, his addition to any team on the list next season -- even Kentucky, which will be stocked with talent again in 2013 -- would be a boon.

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