College Basketball Nation: Dominic Artis

3-point shot: A tough transfer

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
11:30
AM ET
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Andy Katz reports on why Dominic Artis isn't headed to St. John's, how Louisiana-Lafayette plans to springboard off Elfrid Payton's NBA lottery status, and the upcoming first days in new conferences for Louisville, Maryland and Rutgers.

January is always tough, but this January was brutal — the coldest month of the century they say, an unrelenting onslaught of polar vortices and transport disasters and Los Angeles news anchors shivering in the 60-degree chill.

Let’s all come together, then, and celebrate the end of January 2014. The Oregon Ducks can be our college hoops guests of honor. Because it’s settled now, after Thursday’s 70-68 home loss to UCLA: No team in the sport has had a more miserable month.

It seems crazy now, but it really did happen. The Ducks entered the New Year unbeaten. They began the 2013-14 season with a solid victory over a surprisingly game Georgetown at the Armed Forces Tip-Off in Seoul, South Korea, throttled a series of overmatched home opponents, and from there they just kept on winning: at Ole Miss, versus Illinois in Portland, in overtime versus BYU. Led by Houston transfer Joseph Young and UNLV transfer Mike Moser, Oregon was playing hyper-efficient, stylish, up-tempo offense -- it exceeded 100 points on four separate occasions.

On Jan. 2, Oregon traveled to Utah and opened Pac-12 play with a win. Save No. 1-ranked Arizona, no team in the West looked as good as Dana Altman’s. Plus, much of that stretch had been accomplished without suspended players Dominic Artis and Ben Carter. As both returned, and the Ducks stretched their unbeaten start to 14-0, Altman’s team had the look of a conference title contender.

Since then, Oregon is 1-6. Its first three losses -- a road defeat to Colorado and home losses to Stanford and Cal -- were forgivable. Following them with losses to Oregon State and Washington? Not so much. The Ducks lost five in a row in total before Sunday’s pounding of lowly Washington State. Even worse? Those wins that looked so promising in November and December all came against teams that have fallen apart themselves to various degrees in January. The Ducks’ month was so bad it’s infecting everything it touches.

[+] EnlargeUCLA
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsKyle Anderson and UCLA not only extended Oregon's misery Thursday, but also established themselves as No. 2 in the Pac-12.
Thursday night’s loss to UCLA was disappointing on multiple fronts for Oregon. For starters, there was the sheer fact of the loss itself, which capped off Altman’s monthus horriblus. But there were also the letdowns contained therein: how the Ducks, so lackluster for so much of the game, rediscovered their shooting late in the second half and came storming back from a double-digit deficit with a late 12-0 run. With 1:12 left to play, Richard Amardi made a free throw that put Oregon up 68-65. The Ducks would then go on to yield the final five points of the game. Their final shot, a hopeful Johnathan Loyd effort, was stopped short of the rim by Kyle Anderson's Stretch Armstrong arms.

In their eight Pac-12 games, the Ducks are now allowing more points per possession (1.074) than they are scoring (1.07). They haven’t played well, and they didn’t play well for much of Thursday night. That they still had a chance to salvage that win was lucky, all things considered.

Focusing too much on Oregon could cause one to overlook UCLA, and that would be a mistake. After Thursday’s win -- based not only on their talent but on résumé and efficiency, too -- it now seems safe to call the Bruins the second-best team in the Pac-12. Arizona State might be in that mix, same with Cal and Stanford. But the Bruins have beaten all of those teams (albeit at home) in January, and Anderson and Jordan Adams form a one-two scoring punch most of those teams don’t have.

Is the Pac-12 finally taking shape? Arizona is far and away its best team, obviously. But pulling UCLA out of the rest of a muddled middle feels fair. The Bruins are 16-4 with no bad losses on their résumé (road games at Mizzou and Utah, neutral court to Duke, home to Arizona), the most efficient offense (1.11 PPP) in Pac-12 play and, most surprising of all, the second-ranked per-possession defense (.96). They play faster and smarter and more well-executed basketball than they did a year ago under Ben Howland, and they’re not sacrificing defensive strength in doing so. They don’t belong in the same group as Cal, Stanford, Arizona State, etc., at least not right now.

Whatever your sense is of the hierarchy at work in the Pac-12 this season, UCLA certainly doesn’t belong in the same group as Oregon. The Ducks are flailing. Where they go from here is a matter of better defense, sure, but also a rediscovery of the offensive skill that made them such a thrilling proposition in November and December.

We’re crossing our fingers and hoping for a slightly warmer February to salvage this winter. Altman’s team will have to do far more than that.
The Pac-12 driver’s seat already is occupied, Arizona buckled up and ready to rule. Currently leading the nation, the Wildcats certainly are expected to lead their conference as well.

So who will be the league’s co-pilot? Two candidates line up Saturday when Oregon visits Colorado.

That the Ducks are in the mix shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dana Altman’s crew rolled to the Sweet 16 last year, giving eventual national champion Louisville everything it could handle before losing. Even Dominic Artis' nine-game suspension couldn’t slow a loaded Oregon roster that could just be good enough to bump Arizona out of its predicted first-place perch.

The wild card is Colorado, a team every bit as capable of co-piloting or even driving the league.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. When the Buffs joined the Pac-12, they were another realignment geography punchline, a Rocky Mountain addition to a coast-hugging conference. The move was made, as all realignment moves were and are made, for football. Basketball didn’t even move the needle, let alone create an impact.

And yet here we are. Thanks to Tad Boyle and Spencer Dinwiddie (still top five best names in college basketball), the Buffaloes are a legit Pac-12 threat. They won the league tourney two years ago and merited an at-large NCAA berth last year.

Still, despite a home win against Kansas, a near loss to Oklahoma State, a top 25 ranking and that NCAA past history, not everyone is paying attention to Colorado.

Maybe it’s their newbie status on the national scene or maybe it’s the shadow cast by their more familiar league peers (Arizona, UCLA, Oregon), but the Buffs are still a little bit under the radar.

This game against Oregon could help change that. Bold predictions are dangerous, especially in Week 1 of the Pac-12 season, but a win against the Ducks could very well put Colorado, if not in the driver’s seat, much more than just along for the ride.

1. The NCAA men's basketball selection committee will make a formal announcement Thursday about the tweaking it did to the bracketing principles for the 2014 tournament during its meeting earlier this month in Park City, Utah. The committee is expected to produce a document that protects the "true seed" -- where a team stands according to the committee's 1-through-68 ranking -- and that doesn't jeopardize that seeding in order to avoid conference or non-conference repeat matchups. Seeding the tournament is probably more important than the final few bids that get the most attention on Selection Sunday, and the committee doesn't want to mess with the true seed. Meanwhile, there were a few other issues addressed. The new number of at-large berths is down to 36 with the split of the Big East and the American Athletic Conference, meaning that there are now 32 automatic qualifiers. But the committee was informed that, technically, the Big East's automatic bid went with the Big East, and the American must get its AQ bid formally approved by the Division I sports-management cabinet, according to a source. But that shouldn't be an issue. The committee also looked at maintaining the same standard for the Final Four of a minimum of 60,000 fans, due to the current demand for tickets (meaning only domes for the Final Four). But it continues to remain highly likely that regional final sites from 2016 and beyond will be basketball arenas only, save the one dome site that will host the Final Four the ensuing year. The committee also had an informal discussion on what it would look like if basketball were a one-semester sport. The calendar was so compressed that to make the season work and to finish in early April was impossible. The change would have been too dramatic. So the committee at least looked at the possibility. There was no movement to change March Madness or the pre-Masters dates of the Final Four.

2. Oregon is waiting for Houston transfer Joseph Young to file a waiver to play immediately for the Ducks. Oregon is somewhat confident Young would be approved -- which could give the Ducks a top-tier top seven, with UNLV transfer Mike Moser, returning guards Dominic Artis, Johnathan Loyd, Damyean Dotson, forward Ben Carter and junior college transfer Elgin Cook. Young averaged 18 points a game for Houston. So Oregon could have a much different look if Young can play immediately.

3. NC State continues to respect its past as much as any other program. The Wolfpack went with alum Sidney Lowe after Herb Sendek, but Lowe wasn't able to a build a consistent winner, despite recruiting well. Third-year coach Mark Gottfried isn't afraid to reach back into NC State's past to help forge a future by bringing Wolfpack legend Dereck Whittenburg onto the staff. Whittenburg had been head coach at Fordham and Wagner and, most recently, an ESPN analyst and producer of a documentary, "Survive and Advance," in ESPN's "30 For 30" series. Whittenburg, who has the most famous shot/pass in NC State history, will bring energy to the Wolfpack staff as well as a direct link to the past that current players should and likely will appreciate.
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.
1. Colorado didn't burn any bridges when it left the Big 12 and the Buffaloes are taking advantage of the relationships to schedule quality nonconference games for a team that should make the NCAA tournament in 2014. The Buffaloes already get Kansas in the return game of a home-and-home series with their former Big 12 rival. Colorado coach Tad Boyle then searched for an opponent to play at the MGM Grand -- site of the Pac-12 tournament -- on Dec. 20. Boyle locked in Oklahoma State, a team likely to be picked to win the Big 12. The Buffaloes now have the potential to have two top 10-15 nonconference games by scheduling KU and OSU. The Buffs already had scheduled Front Range games against Wyoming at home and Colorado State and Air Force on the road -- both extremely difficult stops. Boyle said he's trying to add one more neutral site game and one more home-and-home series as well as two other guaranteed games. Meanwhile, the Buffs, who lost Andre Roberson early to the NBA draft, are getting great reviews on incoming freshmen Jaron Hopkins and Dustin Thomas.

2. Oregon is getting creative with its schedule for a team that should be, like Colorado, in the upper half of the Pac-12 in 2014. Oregon coach Dana Altman said the Ducks have signed up with a new home-and-home series with Ole Miss, starting in Oxford. That game should have some sensational guards with Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson and the Ducks' backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. Oregon is also playing Illinois in the Rose Garden in Portland with a return game the following season at the United Center in Chicago. BYU is also coming to Eugene. This schedule gives the Ducks bubble teams to start the season. The Ducks' willingness to go to Oxford should be applauded since few teams look to play the Rebels at home. This is a win-win for both schools.

3. An attorney who specializes in NCAA cases said late Monday night that it would be impossible for any school to influence and/or police the behavior of an extended family or coach of a student athlete. The school is supposed to promote compliance to the player and his immediate family. But the Ben McLemore case is an example of how hard it would be to check on whether a third-party is profiting to steer a client to an agent without the player coming forward that he was on the take, too. But having the NCAA investigate is still never a good sign because they can find information relative to the case that can spur other issues. "You never want the enforcement staff to look at you,'' said the attorney. "But this isn't a case of a recruiting violation. It's hard to say in this case that Kansas should be expected to police and monitor the actors in this case.''

 
INDIANAPOLIS -- A quick look at No. 1 overall seed Louisville’s 77-69 win against No. 12 seed Oregon in the Midwest Regional semifinal.

Overview: It wasn’t exactly textbook. The pressure came in dribs and drabs; the lead ebbed and flowed, but Louisville is one step away from a return trip to the Final Four anyway.

In easily their toughest (and only) test of this NCAA tournament, the Cards worked a little harder and a little differently than they may have liked. Oregon was fairly careful with the basketball, turning it over just 12 times, allowing the Cards to generate just 14 points off turnovers.

But in this tournament, teams have to be able to win in all sorts of ways, and the Cardinals did just that.

Turning point: Naturally it came down to a steal. What else would it be for Louisville? With Oregon, which refused to go away the entire game, Wayne Blackshear swiped the ball out of the hands of a driving Dominic Artis, stopping Oregon’s last threat.

To their credit, the Ducks never went away. After what looked to be a dagger run by Louisville midway in the second half, Oregon came back with a sprint of its own, cutting the lead to six points on a Damyean Dotson pull-up jumper. But Kevin Ware, who was critical in the first half filling in for foul-plagued Peyton Siva, scored on a sweet drive to the hoop to make it 72-64. E.J. Singler missed a 3-pointer on one possession, and on the next, Blackshear stripped Artis on a drive to the hoop. The Ducks never threatened again.

Key player: Russ Smith. The guard was everywhere, scoring right-handed, left-handed, on floaters, jumpers and wild layups. The one-man show ended up tying his career high with 31 points.

Key stat: The Cardinals sliced and diced their way through the Oregon defense to the tune of a 42-34 advantage in points in the paint.

What's next: Louisville advances to Sunday’s Elite Eight game against Duke. It’s the Cards’ fourth regional final appearance in the past six years.
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.
This week’s slate of NCAA tournament games should feature a variety of exciting matchups. There’s no question that 16 quality teams are still alive.

But that will change soon.

And the following matchups could play crucial roles in the final outcomes.

Here are five individual Sweet 16 matchups that I’m excited about:

Mitch McGary (Michigan) versus Jeff Withey (Kansas), Friday, Dallas: Michigan’s win against VCU helped change my perspective on McGary. He just had a different rhythm and vibe in that game. In one outing -- the most crucial matchup of his career and his team’s season -- McGary (21 points, 10-for-11 from the field, 14 rebounds) had matured from a freshman to a man. He was active and strong and fluid and determined. But he’s about to run into a 7-foot problem.

Withey is playing like a man possessed right now. He’s clearly hungry for a ring. In two Kansas wins in the NCAA tournament, he’s averaged 16.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG and 6.0 BPG. McGary has been challenged by some talented defenders in the Big Ten. But Withey is a different test. He’s not only talented, he’s experienced. He battled Anthony Davis in the national title game last season. So he’s not afraid of anyone. This pairing could ignite a war in the paint.

Peyton Siva/Russ Smith (Louisville) versus Johnathan Loyd/Dominic Artis/Damyean Dotson (Oregon), Friday, Indianapolis: So this goes against the “individual” premise of this piece. But I couldn’t pick just one player. And with Rick Pitino’s wacky zone looks and Dana Altman’s guard rotation, you just never know who will be on the floor at the same time. But I picked these matchups based on one element: I’m a speed junkie. This might be the fastest guard setup in NCAA tournament history. They should play this game on turf.

Siva and Smith lead an attack that’s ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency and forces turnovers on 28 percent of its opponents’ possessions (second in the country), both according to Ken Pomeroy. That could be a problem for an Oregon squad that led the Pac-12 with 14.2 turnovers per game. Artis, Dotson and Loyd love to go (the Ducks are 48th in adjusted tempo, per Pomeroy). So this could be the fastest game in the Big Dance. But it’s also a platform for chaos. Oregon’s speed versus Russdiculous? Don’t blink.

Victor Oladipo (Indiana) versus Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), Thursday, Washington, D.C.: There’s no guarantee the game will start this way. But at some point, things could turn and Tom Crean might be forced to put the country’s top overall defender on one of the country’s most dynamic point guards. Sometimes, the most troubling defender for MCW is MCW (3.5 turnovers per game). But when the 6-foot-6 maestro is efficient, it’s easy to see the pro qualities that have positioned him as a potential lottery pick (11.8 PPG, 7.6 APG, 2.7 SPG).

David Stern probably will call Oladipo’s name in this summer’s draft, too. The 6-5 All-American is active on both ends of the floor, and his ability to defend players of all sizes has been an asset for a Hoosiers team that earned the Big Ten’s regular-season title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. Oladipo (2.1 SPG) will be crucial for Indiana’s offense, too. He’s shooting 43.3 percent from beyond the arc. Oladipo-MCW, if we see it play out, could be the game’s most critical matchup.

Aaron Craft (Ohio State) versus Mark Lyons (Arizona), Thursday, Los Angeles: Lyons has carried the Wildcats to the Sweet 16. The West Region did Arizona a few favors to ease its path. Harvard’s dismissal of New Mexico certainly helped. But Lyons has been phenomenal. He scored 50 points, shot 20-for-32 from the field and connected on six of his 13 3-point attempts in two wins against Belmont and Harvard. When Sean Miller lured Lyons to Tucson, he needed a leader. He needed a veteran who could help him mold his talented young recruiting class. And Lyons has played that role for the program. Plus, he’s elevated his game at a pivotal time.

But Craft is a dream-killer. He proved as much with his poise in the final minutes of Ohio State’s win against Iowa State last weekend. Craft wasn’t perfect. But with the game on the line, he didn’t panic. That game winner exemplified the trust his teammates have in him, too. Point guards don’t like him, though. He’s recorded eight steals in two NCAA tournament games. Cyclones point guard Korie Lucious committed five turnovers against his pressure. Craft is coming after Lyons this week.

Adreian Payne (Michigan State) versus Ryan Kelly (Duke), Friday, Indianapolis: Last year, Payne told me he wanted to play point guard for Tom Izzo in 2012-13. Izzo laughed when I mentioned the idea. He’s certainly no PG, but Payne has played like an extremely athletic stretch-4 in recent weeks. He’s not your average big man. He was off in Michigan State’s first two tournament games (0-for-4), but he’s shooting 40.5 percent from the 3-point line. And at the rim, he’s a human pogo stick (five blocks against Memphis).

Kelly, however, is the definition of a stretch-4. He’s the toughest matchup for the majority of Duke’s opponents. He’s 6-11 and he’s shooting 45.9 percent from the 3-point line. And he’s improved as a defender. He also has a very underrated Kevin McHale-like post game. This is a matchup between two guys who get buckets in a multitude of ways. They’ll be chasing each other all day. Get your popcorn ready for this one.

Dotson leads hot Ducks to easy win

March, 23, 2013
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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.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

March, 1, 2013
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Arizona and UCLA were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the preseason Pac-12 media poll. Yet neither team will be in first place when they square off Saturday at Pauley Pavilion on "College GameDay." UCLA (11-4 in conference) trails league leader Oregon (12-4) by a half-game. Arizona is a full game back along with Cal, both at 11-5. Long story short, four teams are still in contention for the Pac-12 crown, which should make for one of the more exciting regular-season finishes in college basketball. Here are this week’s power rankings:

1. Cal. Mike Montgomery’s squad has won six in a row. Included in that stretch are a two-point victory at Oregon and a one-point win at Oregon State. Allen Crabbe (19) and Justin Cobbs (14.9) have combined to average 33.9 points per game for a Golden Bears team that hosts Colorado on Saturday. Cal needs a victory to remain in contention for the Pac-12 crown.

2. Oregon. Thursday’s 85-75 victory over Oregon State was bittersweet for the Ducks. On the same night it welcomed back injured guard Dominic Artis, Oregon lost second-leading scorer Damyean Dotson when he bruised his hip in a nasty fall under the basket. He is listed as day to day. Oregon’s final two league games (against Colorado and Utah) are on the road.

3. UCLA. Would Bruins fans still hate Ben Howland if UCLA won the Pac-12 title? It could happen. UCLA could grab a share of the league lead by defeating Arizona on Saturday night in Westwood. The Bruins beat the Wildcats 84-73 in January. If UCLA beats Arizona again -- and then tops Washington State and Washington on the road -- it will own at least a share of the conference championship.

4. Arizona. Arizona has a gaudy overall record of 23-5, but it seems to have regressed in recent weeks. The Wildcats were whipped 89-78 at USC on Wednesday and nearly lost to Utah two weeks ago. Arizona’s freshmen haven’t developed as quickly as Sean Miller had hoped. And the team lacks a true point guard.

5. Colorado. The Buffaloes have won eight of their past 10 games, with the only defeats coming in a 58-55 upset at Utah and a 63-62 overtime setback against Arizona State. Tad Boyle’s squad faces a huge road test Saturday against Cal, which has won six straight. At this point, Colorado is in good shape to make the NCAA tournament.

6. USC. The Trojans snapped a two-game losing streak by upsetting No. 11 Arizona on Wednesday night and now have won five of their past seven overall. USC (8-7) is in position to finish Pac-12 play with a winning record, which is something no one would have imagined when coach Kevin O’Neill was fired in January.

7. Washington. The Huskies, who are 7-8 in Pac-12 play, have been a huge disappointment. But they still have a chance to finish with a winning record. Washington’s final three games (against Washington State, USC and UCLA) are all at home. C.J. Wilcox averages 17.1 points per game, and Aziz N'Diaye averages 9.5 rebounds.

8. Stanford. A few weeks ago, it appeared the Cardinal were ready to turn the corner, but Johnny Dawkins’ squad has reverted to its old ways and now has lost four of its past five games. The latest setback came in a 65-63 home defeat against Colorado on Wednesday, when Dwight Powell's potential game-tying dunk came one-tenth of a second too late as the buzzer sounded.

9. Arizona State. The Sun Devils’ NCAA tournament hopes were all but shot following back-to-back losses to Washington and UCLA (the latter in overtime). Arizona State struggled to find consistency throughout February, never winning more than two games in a row. Its final two games (against USC and Arizona) are both on the road.

10. Utah. The Utes threw a scare into Arizona and Colorado before being dominated by Cal in Thursday’s 64-46 defeat. Utah plays at Stanford on Sunday before returning home for its final two regular-season games, against Oregon State and Oregon. This team has improved significantly, even though it has yet to surpass last season's Pac-12 win total of three games.

11. Oregon State. The Beavers led Oregon 41-34 at halftime Thursday but couldn’t hold on in an 85-75 loss. Roberto Nelson had 31 points for an Oregon State squad whose only conference wins are against Washington State, Utah and Washington. Nelson is averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game.

12. Washington State. It’s amazing how many bad breaks this team has caught. Seven of the Cougars’ 17 losses are by four points or fewer, and five are by two points or fewer. Two of them came in overtime, and another occurred against Texas A&M on a 25-foot, buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

3-point shot: Oladipo looking like POY

February, 20, 2013
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1. This could be a year where there is no consensus among the various player of the year awards from the Wooden, to the AP to the Naismith to the Oscar Robertson to the Rupp. That's why Indiana's Victor Oladipo, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Kansas' Ben McLemore or Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk could win one or all of the awards over the previous four trendy picks a month ago: Creighton's Doug McDermott, Michigan's Trey Burke, Indiana's Cody Zeller and Duke's Mason Plumlee. Smart can make a strong case with a win over KU and McLemore Wednesday in Stillwater. Olynyk will be in the chase throughout as the Zags cruise. But Oladipo made his strongest case yet in Tuesday night's win over Michigan State in East Lansing. Oladipo finished with 19 points, including a clinching offensive rebound put back and a breakaway dunk. Oladipo is shooting 63.8 percent in the half court -- best among big six players -- and creates offense with his steals at the defensive end. He had five against the Spartans on Tuesday. In two games against Michigan State, Oladipo has 11 of the Hoosiers' 16 steals. The votes are fluid and there is still time but for this week my vote would go to Oladipo.

2. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said late Tuesday night that he was thrilled with the play of his big three: Trae Golden, Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae. They were the difference in the rout of LSU in Knoxville. The Volunteers have won four in a row, including the 30-point pounding of Kentucky last Saturday. If you're looking for an SEC tournament buster that could cause serious problems for bubble teams in the league -- and who knows maybe win the tournament -- then put Tennessee down. The SEC tournament is in Nashville and the Vols are clicking at the right time. This is exactly the type of team that could get hot over a three-day period in a conference tournament. The Vols have the size inside and can suddenly score (not resembling at all the team that lost to Georgetown 37-36 Nov. 30). The Vols have scored 88 and 82 points in the past two games.

3. Oregon coach Dana Altman said Tuesday night that freshman point guard Dominic Artis is still doubtful for Thursday's game against Cal due to his nagging foot injury. The Ducks are trying to avoid being swept by the Bears, who beat Oregon in Berkeley 58-54. Oregon committed 22 turnovers in the loss. Altman said the Ducks need to slow Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs to win. "Cal is the hot team in the conference,'' said Altman. If Cal beats Oregon on Thursday night (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) then they are in a strong position to challenge for the Pac-12 title. If Oregon wins, then the Ducks will be in a tremendous spot to win the conference without having to play Arizona or UCLA again the rest of the season and winning a tiebreaker with both. The Ducks are 4-3 without Artis, the team's top point guard.
1. Akron coach Keith Dambrot said Saturday he was willing to switch and play on the road instead of being a home team in BracketBusters Feb. 22 or 23 in order to get a better game. Dambrot was turned down Sunday by the MAC office and the Zips will be a home team when the BracketBusters pairings will be announced Monday at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Home/road designations have been predetermined. The problem is the better teams are at home -- having Akron possibly facing a lesser opponent, especially after the Zips beat Ohio and remain undefeated in the conference. This is the last year of BracketBusters but the teams will return the game in a nonconference matchup in 2014.

2. Duke’s Ryan Kelly is out indefinitely with a foot injury with no timetable for his return. Now Oregon’s Dominic Artis is in a similar situation. Artis has missed the last three games and the Ducks are 1-2 in his absence, losing their lead in the Pac-12. The Ducks have had 65 turnovers in their three games without the freshman point guard, 22 in a loss Saturday at Cal. Oregon officials say Artis is doubtful for next week’s homestand against Colorado and Utah. Duke has adjusted without Kelly. Oregon is having a harder time trying to deal without Artis. But both players’ absences will have a direct result on whether either can win the ACC or Pac-12, respectively, with Miami and Arizona ahead of the pack in each league.

3. UNLV caught a break when Mike Moser was ejected at Boise State for a flagrant 2 foul and not a flagrant 1. He will not have to miss the Runnin’ Rebels' game at Fresno State. Moser’s absence likely had a hand in the Runnin’ Rebels losing at Boise State. UNLV can’t afford any more lapses in games that it should win if it wants to catch New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference. UNLV is now in a third-tier group with San Diego State, trailing second-place Air Force and Colorado State, all behind New Mexico.
1. Florida State's Michael Snaer has hit four game-winning 3-pointers at the buzzer for the Seminoles in two seasons, including two this season (against Clemson and Maryland). What makes Snaer such a clutch shooter? "I've never seen a player who works as hard in practice as he does in the game,'' said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton. "He's always in that mental frame of mind and that's why he has so much confidence in himself. He's relaxed in those situations. The ball is supposed to go in.'' The Seminoles have been incredibly erratic this season and Hamilton is attributing a lot of that to youth with seven new players. He said Snaer has had to do too much distributing with Ian Miller out (only plays, doesn't practice). But Hamilton said Snaer is back to his more traditional role. Hamilton isn't ruling out a run by Florida State to the NCAAs, especially with four home games remaining against teams that could make the committee notice, beginning with Duke on Saturday (Miami, NC State and Virginia are also coming to Tallahassee). I said on our ESPN2 halftime Thursday night that Snaer is my top last-possession shooter. My other top four were Butler's Rotnei Clarke, Duke's Seth Curry, Indiana's Jordan Hulls and Michigan's Trey Burke. The twitterverse threw back at me Kansas' Ben McLemore and Saint Mary's Matthew Dellavedova.

2. Oregon got popped at Stanford on Wednesday night in a game minus Dominic Artis (foot). It was the first conference loss of the season for the Ducks. The staff is confident Artis will be back next week at the earliest. But there were clearly issues without Artis, and as one assistant coach said Thursday, Artis had taken pressure off every other guard when he was on the floor. The Ducks will need Johnathan Loyd and Willie Moore. But the Ducks need to be led by their seniors in E.J. Singler, Tony Woods, Carlos Emory and Arsalan Kazemi if they are to hold off Arizona for the Pac-12 title.

3. Missouri coach Frank Haith said the Tigers must play with a sense of urgency after losing at LSU on Wednesday night. Haith said the Tigers have played only two games with the full compliment of players. But he was "very pleased" with the play of his top inside player -- Laurence Bowers -- who returned to the lineup after missing the previous five games (3-2) with an MCL sprain, scoring 10 points and grabbing six boards in 32 minutes.

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