College Basketball Nation: Jordan Bachynski


MILWAUKEE -- Many teams create watchwords before the season or the NCAA tournament, corny but commendable slogans that look good on dry-erase boards or in Twitter hashtags.

Few teams follow through on them. Even fewer do so the way Texas did Thursday night.

Three days earlier, Longhorns players and coaches had brainstormed three guiding principles for their tournament quest: fundamentals, team and win. The fundamentals lacked at times against Arizona State, as Texas committed 24 fouls and allowed too many open looks for the Sun Devils in the second half. But the Longhorns were the ultimate team, especially down the stretch, and they prevailed with an 87-85 win.

Cameron Ridley's acrobatic putback a flicker before the horn punctuated the victory and led off the highlights, as it should, but Texas' final four baskets all came on second-chance efforts, as Ridley and forward Jonathan Holmes combined for 10 offensive rebounds. There were fortunate bounces, but Texas repeatedly capitalized on them.

The Longhorns had six players score in double figures -- all five starters and freshman guard Martez Walker, who had a career-high 16. There are no Kevin Durants or T.J. Fords on the team that brought back Texas basketball and rescued coach Rick Barnes. Texas has many contributors, and it needed them all against an Arizona State team that controlled play after falling behind by 14 with 12:11 to play.

"We know we need everybody," guard Isaiah Taylor said. "Other teams, they always have two leading scorers. We know that anybody on our team can lead us in scoring on any given night. You can rely on everybody for confidence. All five of us can score, so we can pass it to anybody and everybody can create for themselves."

Thursday marked the sixth game this season in which Texas had at least five players score in double figures. The Longhorns adhere to the motto INAM -- It's Not About Me -- but as guard Javan Felix notes, it means to "selfishly attack your role."

[+] EnlargeCameron Ridley
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCameron Ridley, who made the game-winning shot for Texas, goes on the offensive in the second half.
"Before the game, we just talked about fighting," Felix said. "On those two plays, you just saw how hard we fought."

Arizona State led 83-82 with 35 seconds left when Felix fired a 3-pointer from the corner. The problem: it only went about 19 feet. As soon as he released it, he started shouting, "Short! Short!"

Fortunately, Holmes heard him, caught the air ball, scored and drew a foul.

"That's my assist," Felix said, smiling.

Another wayward 3-point attempt, this time by Holmes, appeared to send the game to overtime. But the 285-pound Ridley cut through the lane, caught the ball near his ankles and banked it in with his left hand, just outside the reach of Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski.

Ridley's first buzzer-beater at any level -- "The ball was never in my hands for that situation," he said -- came on the biggest stage.

"Arizona State players were crashing the boards, and I saw a small opening, so I took it," Ridley said. "The ball just happened to bounce my way, and I got the shot up as quick as possible."

Officials reviewed the play to make sure Ridley got the shot off in time. He had no doubt.

"Positive," he said. "Right when I released it, I started screaming. I knew I took the team to the next round."

A top-10 recruit with superb shot-blocking ability and touch around the basket, Ridley could be Texas' next megastar. Thursday night, he was simply one of several capable options who came through.

"Six people in double figures," Felix said. "That's the pure example of team."

The seventh-seeded Longhorns advance to face No. 2 Michigan on Saturday. A win will put them past the tournament's first weekend for the first time since an Elite Eight run in 2008.

Taylor joked in the locker room that it was the first time he had seen Barnes happy after a victory this season.

"Great team win," Barnes said. "Really a great team win."

At Texas, there's no other way.

A conversation with Herb Sendek

February, 17, 2014
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Herb Sendek entered the season hoping to lead his Arizona State squad to its first NCAA appearance since 2009 and second since 2003. With Jahii Carson returning and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall in the mix, it seemed feasible. An early Pac-12 slide, however, fostered doubts about that potential. But the Sun Devils have won six of their past seven games, including Friday’s 69-66 double-overtime win over No. 2 Arizona in Tempe on Friday. Sendek recently spoke with ESPN.com about his team’s recent surge.

Now that you’ve had a few hours to breathe and think about it, how did your program pull off that upset win over your archrivals on Friday?

Sendek: It was a very entertaining college basketball game. Over the course of 50 minutes, I don’t think either team had more than a six-point lead. The game was hard-fought. Obviously, the game could’ve gone either way. We were fortunate in the end for [Jordan Bachynski] to come up with the blocked shot and seal the win for us.

[+] EnlargeHerb Sendek
Ralph Freso/Getty ImagesA big win Friday over No. 2 Arizona puts Herb Sendek in good position to lead Arizona State into the NCAA tournament.
What does a win like that say about your program and its resilience?

Sendek: We’ve had a string of games like this lately. We’ve now played three overtime games. Even some of our other games that didn’t go into overtime were close and hard-fought. I think it’s just very reflective of how strong the conference is right now. It’s very competitive. On most nights, there’s not a lot of separation between teams.

How worried were you at the end of Friday’s game, when Carson hung on the rim and the crowd rushed the court before the game was over?

Sendek: To be honest with you, I didn’t know what had happened because I thought time had expired. ... I started to wonder, 'Why isn’t Arizona leaving the court?' Then the official finally grabbed me and told me what the situation was. It all happened in a matter of seconds. It just was like a blur. Before you knew it, there was [time] put back on the clock and we had to finish the game again.

You lost three of your first five Pac-12 games but you’ve won six of your past seven. What has been the key to this run?

Sendek: I think sometimes too much is made of those kinds of runs. Three of five we lost. ... Two of those were at UCLA and at Arizona. This time we played Arizona at home. I don’t get too caught up in stretches and the runs each game. ... I do think our team has continued to get better, and I would say everybody in our league has done the same.

How important is an NCAA tournament bid to this team?

Sendek: It’s important to our team. I think it’s the No. 1 goal that we have as players and coaches. We’ll give it our best shot for sure. Compared to other challenges that people have around the world, other sufferings that take place every day, I don’t know how important it is. But in the world of sports, our world, it’s our No. 1 goal right now.

How much pressure do you feel to add an NCAA tournament appearance to your resume?

Sendek: I guess it depends on how much control you want to give other people over your own feelings. I think a certain amount of pressure can be a good thing if it’s self-imposed. But to the extent that others apply pressure to you, I don’t know that that has any great value.

What has Marshall added to your program?

Sendek: He’s been terrific. Jermaine has made one big shot after another for us. He’s just brilliant down the home stretch of games, and I think he’s really added a level of maturity and bestowed great confidence on his teammates. He’s just been a phenomenal teammate for us -- certainly down the stretch of the Arizona game ... he made one big shot after another.

3-point shot: Big matchup in Tempe

February, 14, 2014
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Andy Katz discusses the big in-state matchup between Arizona and Arizona State, the secret to Jordan Bachynski’s shot-blocking success and the roll that Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Red Raiders have been on lately.
Calling Arizona-Arizona State a rivalry is a little like calling someone who only plays "Angry Birds" on their phone a “gamer” — it’s technically true but hugely deceptive.

Yes, Arizona State fans hate Arizona. And yeah, Arizona fans probably derive minor joy from lording their historic basketball superiority over their in-state brethren, even if they’d never admit it. Still: Since 1979-80, Arizona is 49-22 against the Sun Devils with an average margin of victory of 8.5 points. In 2013-14, Arizona has been ranked No. 1 for six weeks and, after Sunday night’s 73-53 victory over USC, is 17-0 — the best start in the program’s storied history. The Sun Devils have never had much luck against Arizona. Why would this season, of all seasons, be any different?

All of this illustrates exactly why it feels so insane to say this: Arizona State has a real chance to win at Arizona on Thursday night. Not an “anything can happen in college basketball" chance. A real, actual chance. No, seriously.

[+] EnlargeJordan Bachynski
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesJordan Bachynski can be a game-changer in the middle for Arizona State.
That is not the same as saying the Sun Devils will win, of course; Arizona is the heaviest of favorites. (Wildcats fans, I beg of you: Please review this sentence before you hit send.) The Wildcats are more talented and more balanced and have been almost flawlessly coached by Sean Miller this season. They’ve played a tougher schedule and bested it. They also have this guy. They’re just better. But through that underdog status, the Sun Devils’ real, actual chance can be tangibly traced to the way they match up with the Wildcats on the defensive end — the way they’ve quietly made opposing offenses miserable.

Through 17 games, including Sunday’s 15-point loss at UCLA, Arizona State opponents have the 13th-worst effective field goal percentage in the country: just 43.1 percent. Against the Sun Devils, opposing offenses shoot just 28.9 percent from 3-point range and 43.0 percent from 2-point range, and have 15.5 percent of their shots blocked. That last part is especially key. ASU center Jordan Bachynski blocks 4.8 shots per game and 13.9 percent of available attempts. He also clears 21.9 percent of his team’s available defensive rebounds. It isn’t easy to constantly play help and challenge shots and then recover to clear the glass; few players manage it. Bachynski is one of them, and his presence makes everything ASU opponents do on the interior a grind.

If you want an even minuscule chance of knocking off Arizona, this is an awfully good place to start. Having Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley in the same lineup makes for lots of easy interior buckets, it turns out. According to hoop-math.com, Arizona attempts 35.7 percent of its field goals at the rim, where it shoots an eye-popping 77.8 percent. But if you can nudge the Wildcats out into mid-range territory, their percentage plummets to 29.9 percent.

The Wildcats’ frontcourt is similarly effective in the inverse: Arizona allows opponents to shoot just 16.6 percent of their attempts at the rim. But ASU point guard Jahii Carson might be one of the few players both quick enough to break down the Wildcats’ pack-line membrane and crafty enough to create points afterward.

If Bachynski can protect the rim and Carson can get into the lane on the other end, the Sun Devils could very well find themselves hanging tough in a tight, defensive contest — in striking distance, as they say.

These are monstrous ifs. Arizona will almost certainly win in Tucson on Thursday; an Arizona team this good hasn’t come around in, well, maybe ever. Still, that the Sun Devils have even a striking-distance-level shot against their would-be rivals says just as much about the 7-foot-2 center in Tempe.

3-point shot: Summer school for hoops

August, 29, 2013
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Following up on more August trips, here is what three teams learned.

1. Arizona State: The Sun Devils went to China and according to the staff had a tremendous cultural bonding experience. The post-trip buzz was about how well the three freshmen played, according to associate head coach Eric Musselman. That means ASU expects to get production out of wing Egor Koulechov, Chance Murray and Calaen Robinson, who is listed as a sophomore but didn't play last season. The Sun Devils were in search of a backup point guard on the trip and likely found two in Murray and Robinson. ASU desperately needs more options and depth to be an NCAA tournament team. The Sun Devils figured out they've got to incorporate more touches for JC transfer Shaquielle McKissic and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall. They will be led by point guard Jahii Carson (with an assist from forward Jordan Bachynski), but Carson can’t do it alone. Musselman said the staff was impressed by the young core, but "Carson has stepped up his game both on and off the court skill-wise and with leadership.''

2. Wisconsin: Coach Bo Ryan said he realized "Canadian basketball is much better than people realized, better than it's been.'' He said the Badgers learned how to play with more tempo and movement. The freshmen picked up the drills and the style in which the Badgers will play. He said the management of Josh Gasser's minutes was critical, since the point guard who sat out last season with a torn ACL must be ready to go for the start of the season. Gasser will share the position with Traevon Jackson. "Josh is still tentative and that's to be understood. He's not quite there yet,'' said Ryan. "But he shot it pretty well. This trip gave him a chance to do a lot of shooting.'' Ryan said the Badgers showed they have more depth on the perimeter. He said working with a 24-second shot clock was beneficial to handle late-game situations. The Badgers definitely played to the fast-paced game, giving up 95 points in a loss to Carleton to start the trip and 92 in a win over Ottawa. Expect those defensive scoring numbers to be much lower once the Badgers get into the season with a traditional 35-second shot clock. Wisconsin has to get the defensive numbers down with a brutal nonconference schedule with games against St. John's in South Dakota, Florida, at Green Bay, Saint Louis (and then ODU or West Virginia) in Cancun, at Virginia and Marquette. The Badgers did get a Big Ten "break" with three of the first five conference games at home.

3. Clemson: Coach Brad Brownell said the Tigers will shoot much better this season than last after the 10-day trip to Italy. Clemson averaged 95 points on the four-game trip. "We still don't know how our young post players will react under real pressure,'' said Brownell. The only two posts who played on the trip were Landry Nnoko (11 blocks and 11.5 rebounds) and Josh Smith (13 boards a game). Jaron Blossomgame still wasn't healthy enough to play after offseason surgery and JC transfer Ibrahim Djambo and freshman big man Sidy Djitte of Senegal didn't go on the trip. "Everyone on the perimeter is a year older and just better than last year,'' said Brownell. That helps. This team will still rely heavily on K.J. McDaniels, who was scoring at a clip of 15 points, grabbing nine boards and blocking a total of 12 shots. McDaniels had to play more because of the thinning forward crew. Spokesperson Philip Sikes had a complete report on the trip and noted the improved play of Damarcus Harrison, who was in shape, Jordan Roper for his consistency and Devin Coleman for getting through the games and travel after returning from a torn Achilles.

1. The USA's World University Games team will go down as a disappointment for failing to medal in Kazan, Russia. But the intent was to put together a team, not a collection of all-stars. That's exactly what was done in forming the squad. The staff of Bob McKillop (Davidson), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and John Beilein (Michigan) -- a collection of three of the more successful coaches -- will have to decide if they put the players in the right spots after the tournament. But some of the players will also return to the states needing to reassess their season after a subpar performance. A few of them were undecided about whether to declare for the NBA draft or go back to school. Like Adreian Payne of Michigan State, Cory Jefferson of Baylor and Doug McDermott of Creighton. All of three are vital to their team's success next season and McDermott enters as one of the favorites for the national player of the year. The player who deserves the most praise on the team is Louisville's Luke Hancock, who is playing well and through incredible grief after losing his father, William, in late June. Through six games, Hancock was second on the team in scoring and in making 3-pointers. Hancock's play in the WUG and Montrezl Harrell for the gold-medal U-19 FIBA championship team is yet another reason why the Cardinals should be feeling good about being title contenders yet again.

2. Canada's WUG team was undefeated through six games, including a win over the Americans. The play of Brady Heslip (Baylor), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State) and Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State) should bode well for their respective teams and Canada's future. Remember the best Canadians are in the NBA now and will be coming next season too. Consecutive Canadians could be drafted No. 1 from Anthony Bennett to Kansas' Andrew Wiggins. Kelly Olynyk performance for the Celtics in the summer league adds to the depth of this national team. Heslip had a disappointing season a year ago but should be ready to assume more of a leadership role for the Bears. Pangos will be the focal point for the Zags. Ejim is a major player for the Cyclones and Bachynski has to be the interior scorer for the Sun Devils. The front-running school for former Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer has always been Gonzaga and playing with Pangos should be a reason to suspect the Zags will get Wiltjer. Of course, Wiltjer could still decide to come back to Kentucky and either play or redshirt.

3. The freak fractured right ankle for Shane Larkin doesn't mean he didn't make the right decision to leave for the NBA. Larkin suffered the injury while practicing with his Dallas Mavericks team in preparation for the Las Vegas Summer League. Larkin is out for three months with the best-case scenario being that he returns in time for training camp in October. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was positive about Larkin's return and what he could mean for the Mavericks once healthy. Larkin was a first-round pick and will get serious minutes once he is ready next season. Had he returned to Miami for his junior season then he would have been back for a team that relied too much on him. Larkin wouldn't have been simply a playmaker, he would have had to make the majority of plays and that isn't who he will, or should, be in the NBA. Meanwhile, his injury has likely opened up a chance for Ricky Ledo to earn some time. Ledo left Providence after not being eligible in his one season on campus. Ledo was a long shot to be eligible to play in college and probably made the best decision for his career to leave.
1. Memphis coach Josh Pastner had former Missouri guard Michael Dixon on campus Tuesday for a face-to-face visit. Dixon's case is complicated, as ESPN.com's Jason King reported, and there is plenty he must do to become eligible. There are a few issues at play here for Pastner. One of the downsides of social media is that Dixon's arrival was well-chronicled, and his supposed commitment put out for the world to see before it was actually done. Pastner had no time to make a decision before it was presumed to have been made for him. Now, suddenly, his timeline is pushed up because of the assumption that a commitment has been accepted, whether or not an offer was extended. Pastner doesn't need to take second-chance players. He did once with Geron Johnson and it worked out. And while there is no guarantee that newcomers Kuran Iverson and Rashawn Powell will be eligible, according to a source, it's also unknown whether Dixon will be, either. Pastner has done a fantastic job under the shadow of John Calipari and has the Tigers ready to move to the American Athletic Conference next season on an upward trajectory. He was investigating Dixon on his own, but the visit got exposed before any firm decision was made. Now Pastner has to make a public choice of whether to waste his time on taking a player who is searching for an opportunity that not every program may be willing to give him for one year.

2. The U.S. World University Games team will have its hands full with Canada during the competition, set for July 6-17 in Kazan, Russia. The Canadian roster, released Tuesday, isn't as loaded but boasts plenty of major-college talent. Boston College's Olivier Hanlan, the ACC freshman of the year, is joined by headline players Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Dwight Powell (Stanford), Brady Heslip (Baylor), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Laurent Rivard (Harvard) and Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State). Each of these Canadians will have a significant role on his respective team, with all of them starting the season in position to make a run at an NCAA bid. Ejim may be the most intriguing of the lot, with a real shot to be even more of a breakout player in the Big 12. Pangos will have more scoring next season. Powell led the Cardinal last season. Rivard will be a fixture on a stacked Crimson. Wiltjer has to adjust his role with the newcomers at Kentucky but can still be a matchup problem. Heslip must be more consistent. Bachynski has to absorb some of Carrick Felix's numbers after his departure. And Hanlan will be responsible for leading the Eagles higher in the ACC.

3. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has taken plenty of transfers his first few years in Ames. He has had success stories mixed in with quality newcomers. I'll be very interested to see if he can maximize the talent of DeAndre Kane, who was a disappointment for Marshall after starting last season with such promise. Kane was essentially asked to leave Marshall by coach Tom Herrion; they weren't going to mesh for one more season. Now Kane has to be in step with Hoiberg if his final year in college is going to be productive. Kane originally was looking to go to Pitt, but that didn't work out, either. He pursued Iowa State and the Cyclones were receptive. It's in everyone's best interest that this works for next season so the Cyclones can be relevant come March for a third consecutive season.

UCLA establishes new tough identity

March, 14, 2013
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LAS VEGAS -- Long before they were champions of the Pac-12, the UCLA Bruins were dogs. Or at least that was one popular description.

Soft.

Spoiled.

Bums.

Busts.

Prima donnas.

Ben Howland figures his players heard it all in November and December, when a loss to Cal Poly and ugly wins over UC Irvine and Texas prompted fans and pundits to all but give up on the Bruins and their roster of future NBA draft picks. And their coach.

Three months later, look at UCLA now.

One week away from the NCAA tournament, Howland’s team has a new identity, and it’s a far cry from the one that hovered over UCLA’s program earlier this season. There’s a confidence in the locker room, a swagger on the court, a pride in the huddle. The Bruins have always been skilled.

[+] EnlargeBen Howland
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesBen Howland has led a resurgence in Westwood after a rough start to the season.
But now they’re defined by toughness, too.

Just ask Arizona State, which built a 15-point lead in the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal with UCLA, only to watch the Bruins storm back for an 80-75 victory. The win was the sixth in the past seven games for UCLA, which had five players score in double figures. The Bruins outrebounded Arizona State 36-28.

“We have to play physical to win,” Howland said, “and we did that today.”

So revved up were the Bruins that a few of them (Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson) even got into a little tussle with Arizona State’s Carrick Felix in the game’s closing seconds. Howland certainly won’t approve of any on-court altercations, but he had to have liked the fire.

Howland, who led UCLA to three Final Fours in his first nine seasons in Westwood, said he isn’t surprised by his team’s new-found toughness.

“I never worried about it,” Howland said. “Everybody’s got it that’s in our program. It was our job to bring it out of them.”

It seems almost amusing now that Howland had been rumored to be on the hot seat during a season in which his team won the outright Pac-12 title. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero can’t fire Howland now.

Heck, he ought to give him an extension.

This is far from Howland’s best Bruins team. It may not even rank among his top five. Still, the job Howland has done with this bunch has been masterful considering how disjointed and lackadaisical UCLA looked in December and January. Long known as a strong defensive coach and game tactician, Howland is clearly a strong motivator, too.

“It’s all about evolving,” Howland said. “Their attitude has been tremendous. It’s always, 'What do we have to do to win, coach?' I haven’t had a better group of guys to coach in my 10 years at UCLA. It’s been absolutely fantastic. They’re coachable, they listen ... it’s been unbelievable. So fun.”

Indeed, there were certainly plenty of smiles following Thursday’s victory, which catapulted the Bruins into Friday’s semifinal against Arizona.

The Bruins grabbed 14 offensive rebounds that led to 15 second-chance points. Six of the offensive boards came from Muhammad, the future top-five draft pick who scored 16 points playing in front of hometown fans in his native Las Vegas.

“We were all just really composed,” Muhammad said. “That’s what happens when you’re composed and relaxed.”

UCLA doesn’t have a true center or a traditional big man, so rebounding is often a struggle. That’s why Howland was so pleased that his team won the battle of the boards against an Arizona State squad that features 7-foot-1 center Jordan Bachynski and standout four-man Felix, who combine to average 14.3 rebounds.

Most of Howland’s praise, however, was reserved for point guard Larry Drew II. A senior, Drew II was highly criticized when he left North Carolina -- where he was starting -- midway through the 2010-11 season and transferred to UCLA. The easy assumption was that Drew II would underachieve in Westwood just as he did in Chapel Hill.

Instead, Drew II has improved as much as any player in America. He scored 20 points on eight-of-10 shooting Thursday and also dished out four assists. Drew II leads the country in assist-to-turnover ratio.

“Larry Drew is so good,” Howland said. “He looks like he’s going to be playing at the next level.

“He’s the best passer in the history of UCLA basketball, including all of [John] Wooden’s teams. I’m talking about great players. He’s the best of all of them. That’s an incredible statement. I couldn’t be happier for the kid, as maligned as he was. He’s improved throughout the year and he’s playing his best basketball of the year.”

So, too, are the Bruins, who knew they had this in them all along. Even if no one else did.

Olynyk made Wooden case in January

January, 31, 2013
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Kelly Olynyk has been among the nation’s best players in January. On Thursday, he’ll close out the month as the Gonzaga Bulldogs travel to Los Angeles to take on the Loyola Marymount Lions (ESPN2, 11 p.m. ET).

Olynyk started the season shuttling between the bench and the starting lineup. Since he became a full-time starter Dec. 28, he has averaged 21.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. During that span, he is shooting 64.8 from the field and has made 4-of-8 attempts from behind the arc.

So far in January, he is in the top 10 in the nation in scoring, at 22.0 ppg, and field-goal percentage, at 64.3 percent.

Olynyk is averaging 18.2 points per game this season while averaging only 25.4 minutes on the court. Among Division I players, only Creighton’s Doug McDermott averages more points per 40 minutes.

For the season, Olynyk is shooting 65.8 percent from the floor. The only Wooden Award winners to make more than 65 percent of their shots were Blake Griffin in 2009 and Larry Johnson in 1991.

The last player to average 28 points per 40 minutes while shooting at least 62.5 percent from the field was Arkansas' Corliss Williamson during the 1993-94 season. He lost out on the Wooden Award to Glenn Robinson of Purdue, but no player is having a Big Dog-caliber season in 2013.

Olynyk is fifth in the nation in effective field goal percentage. The last two Wooden finalists with a higher eFG were Johnson in 1991 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984.

When you factor in free-throw shooting, it’s even more impressive. Olynyk moves up to third in the nation at 71.7 percent, trailing only Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Belmont’s Ian Clark.

The last Wooden finalist with a true shooting percentage over 70? That would be Johnson.

Olynyk is part of a wave of Canadian talent playing collegiately in the United States. Consider the following squad of Canadian players:
  • Center Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State): tied for third in Division I with 4.3 blocks per game.
  • Forward Olynyk (Gonzaga): third in Division I with 71.7 true shooting percentage.
  • Forward Anthony Bennett (UNLV): second among freshmen with 18.1 points per game.
  • Guard Nik Stauskas (Michigan): top 10 in nation with 49.5 3-point field goal percentage.
  • Guard Myck Kabongo (Texas): preseason All-Big 12 (currently ineligible).
  • Sixth man Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky): The dual Canadian-American citizen scored a career-high 26 points off bench Tuesday.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State was trying to politely run the clock down, with Evan Gordon dribbling aimlessly at the top of the key in the final seconds of a would-be rout of UCLA, when Jordan Adams swiped the ball and headed downcourt for a meaningless dunk.

Carrick Felix wasn’t having it. He followed Adams and, at the last second, blocked the shot from behind. The game ended with the Sun Devils stomping the Bruins 78-60, that final play all but summing up the effort for both teams.

Afterward, both Adams and Felix said the same thing -- that they were taught to play until the final buzzer sounded.

The thing is only one team decided to play when the first buzzer sounded in the desert -- and that was Arizona State.

The Sun Devils all but mopped the floor with a UCLA team that many (present company included) thought was ready to reclaim its position as preseason darling.

Instead, one game after a Gucci performance against Arizona, the Bruins played more like a cheap knockoff.

[+] EnlargeCarrick Felix
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsCarrick Felix goes up for two of his game-high 23 points in Arizona State's victory over UCLA.
They were oddly flat and lifeless, equal opportunity awful on offense (shooting 34.7 percent for the game) and defense (allowing ASU to shoot 46.9 percent) and wiped clean on the boards 49-29.

“They really outplayed us," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “They really played well today, and we didn’t. You have to give them credit."

In this case, the otherwise-boring coachspeak has a point.

You do have to give the Sun Devils credit, not just for this game but for this entire season.

The vultures were circling over Tempe in the fall, waiting to pounce on coach Herb Sendek as soon as this season expired. Back-to-back seasons with 12 and 10 wins, respectively, warmed his seat much more than the desert sun.

Arizona State was picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 this season, which seemed neither unfair nor unreasonable considering the lack of recent accomplishment.

Now the Sun Devils are sitting third, 5-2 in the conference and 16-4 overall. Regardless of how Arizona State fares next week in Washington, it will have a winning record at the Pac-12 halfway point for the fourth time in the past 18 seasons.

In a conference desperate for someone aside from the established three (Oregon, UCLA and Arizona) to assert itself, the Sun Devils are building a case.

In "Three Little Pigs" parlance, it’s a case built on sticks -- slightly better than straw but not as solid as bricks. There’s not much beside this victory to bulk up an NCAA tournament résumé, but there is at least the semblance of a foundation.

“I’ve been at this a long time, so I know how fragile this all is," Sendek said. “You can look great one day and then be absolutely awful before the next TV timeout. I think this team has a sense of confidence, but in no way are they getting carried away by it."

The game plan to beat UCLA wasn’t complicated. Without Travis Wear (out with concussion-like symptoms after a blow to the head against Arizona), the Sun Devils wisely pounded the ball inside. The Bruins were equal parts unable and unwilling to stop them, allowing Jordan Bachynski to score a career-high 22 to lead a 46-26 edge in the paint. (Felix added a game-high 23.)

The catch for Arizona State is the same as it is everywhere else in the country: There is a pandemic of inconsistency sweeping college basketball.

The one thing you can count on this season is that the court dimensions won’t change. Other than that, it’s anarchy. This season is wildly and, at times, inexplicably unpredictable. ASU has to try to avoid the roller-coaster flu.

The win here was big, especially partnered with a nice overtime victory Thursday against USC. But a trip to Washington State and Washington looms, and well, who knows how that will go?

Ask UCLA. Just two nights ago, the Bruins were touting their ability to bounce back after losing to Oregon, pointing to the victory against Arizona as a sign of their maturity and growth.

How’s that looking about now?

The Sun Devils sounded all the right notes after the win.

“I don’t know that it’s necessarily sending a message," Felix said. “The Pac-12 is a very good league, and every team is going to come to play every night. You have to sure you match that and come ready."

Saying it and doing it are two different things, just like playing until the final buzzer and playing from the opening one.
Earlier today, I wrote about the eventful day in the Big East, as Villanova upset No. 3 Syracuse and Louisville dropped its third in a row in a loss at Georgetown. Here are a few other afternoon thoughts from around the college hoops landscape:

1. Kentucky does not look like a tournament team. Unless the tournament in question is the NIT.

I know, I know: A win is a win, and Kentucky held on for a 75-70 home victory over LSU on Saturday. And I know: There's still some time left for this young Kentucky team to figure it all out. But it's clear, at least right now, that the Wildcats have some pretty significant flaws, flaws that could put their already tenuous tournament position in even greater jeopardy the rest of the way.

Chief among them? Defense. The Wildcats had allowed .97 points per possession in SEC play prior to Saturday, seventh-best in a league that most certainly does not house seven good teams. (Maybe three.) It ranked last in the league in forced-turnover rate, and it had allowed SEC opponents to grab 32.1 percent of available offensive rebounds, 10th-best in the conference. These same flaws were apparent Saturday, too. Kentucky scored efficiently throughout the game; it shot 52 percent from the field and a tidy 61 percent from inside the arc (it shot 11 3-pointers and made just two). And still the Wildcats allowed the Tigers -- a 10-7 team with a 1-5 SEC record and the 209th-ranked offense in the country, per KenPom.com -- to put up 70 points at Rupp Arena, to push for a game-tying play until the final possession, to make Ashley Judd a nervous wreck on live television.

Kentucky began the week with a No. 10 seed in Joe Lunardi's latest bracket, and that sounds about right, but that was before Tuesday's loss at Alabama. If I had to bet on UK making it to the tournament or not this season, I'd take the former option. But if it can't get at least some separation from the worst teams in its own down league at home, John Calipari's team will find itself at serious risk of missing the tournament just 11 months after winning it all. Heck, that risk is already here.

2. Minnesota's losses are starting to pile up. Lose at Indiana? No big deal -- you're supposed to lose at Indiana. Lose at home to Michigan? Not preferable, but hey, Michigan's really good. Lose a low-scoring game at Wisconsin? Welcome to the last decade of Big Ten play, right?

Taken separately, none of those three losses -- the latest of which came today, 45-44 in Madison -- is cause for overwhelming concern. But taken alongside Minnesota's 55-48 loss at Northwestern on Wednesday, it's no wonder why Gophers fans are starting to freak out. Saturday's result makes for four consecutive losses in Big Ten play. That would be bad enough, but the methods by which these losses have come have been a product of both bad defense (Indiana and Michigan scored a combined 1.24 points per possession) and bad offense (the Gophers were held to just .84 points per trip against Northwestern and Wisconsin) -- a veritable sampler pack of ways to lose Big Ten games.

Even worse? Forward Trevor Mbakwe reinjured his wrist on the final play Saturday, which forced forward Rodney Williams to take the game-deciding free throws, the last of which he clanged. If that injury causes Mbakwe to miss games, the Gophers, who rely so much on offensive rebounds, could lose their best rebounder and interior scorer. You never want to encourage panic in January, not for a team this good anyway. But if Minnesota fans start freaking out ... well, you can understand where they're coming from, at least.

3. Duke had a "program win" over Maryland. That's what guard Quinn Cook called Duke's 84-64 win over the Terps on Saturday afternoon, and whether you're willing to go that far or not, the fact of the matter is that Duke rebounded from its unsightly 90-63 thrashing at Miami -- during which the Hurricanes slapped the floor defensively, openly (and comedically) taunting Duke in the second half of a blowout -- with gusto. The freshmen led the way, particularly shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson, and that is excellent news for a team that needs other contributors to step up as Ryan Kelly recovers from the foot injury that has kept him out of Duke's lineup for much of January. More than anything, though, Saturday's bounce-back victory showed that the Blue Devils' horrific Wednesday night wasn't necessarily the sign of a larger decline. If anything, it was a sign of just how good Miami really is.

4. Iowa State got a huge win over Kansas State. Late January is not too early for a fan base to be concerned with its bubble team's prospective position, and right now it seems like it's the only thing many basketball fans in Iowa -- both fans of Iowa and Iowa State -- can talk about. The Cyclones will have other opportunities to get big résumé wins in Big 12 play, but they took advantage of a major one when they toppled No. 11-ranked Kansas State 73-67. Led by Will Clyburn's 24 points and 10 boards, the Cyclones shot 64 percent in the second half, hoisting up 47 points on a good K-State defense. In Bubble Land, these are the kind of games -- against good but beatable teams at home -- you have to take advantage of. For Iowa State, which suffered a horrible loss at Texas Tech on Wednesday night, it was just what the doctor ordered.

[+] EnlargeJahii Carson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsASU's Jahii Carson drives to the basket on his way to a 12-point, 8-assist effort against UCLA.
5. It's time to pay attention to Arizona State. This is not the first time we've said as much about Jahii Carson and the Sun Devils* this season, but it is the first time Herb Sendek's team has backed it up with a quality win.

Just last week, as Arizona State prepared to play rival Arizona in its own building, we all perked up, forced to pay attention to a team with a 14-3 record -- coming off a three-point loss at Oregon -- hosting its hated in-state rival at home. Naturally, Arizona proceeded to stomp Carson & Co., and it was just as easy to discard Arizona State once more. After all, who had the Sun Devils actually beaten? Arkansas? Colorado at home? Meh. Meh.

Not anymore. Arizona State's 78-60 win over UCLA on Saturday eliminates wipes away that dismissive disclaimer. It's a good win in its own right, but it's made doubly impressive by the fact that UCLA is coming off its own uber-impressive victory Thursday night at Arizona. Maybe the Bruins were tired. They certainly looked it. But it would be folly to take any credit away from ASU, which was led by a 40-minute performance from Carson (who has more 20-point games than any other ASU freshman in school history, save James Harden and Ike Diogu), a 22-point, 15-rebound performance (on 10-of-12 shooting, no less) from center Jordan Bachynski and a defensive performance that held hot-shooting UCLA to just 25-of-72 from the field (and just 5-of-24 from 3).

The win moves Arizona State to 16-4 and 5-2 in the Pac-12, a stunning turnaround from the depths the program sank into in 2011-12. Sendek has turned things around quickly, and it would be a mistake to dismiss Carson and friends anymore.

*Come to think of it, that would make a pretty good name for a band.

Bonus features:

  • San Diego State was at risk of falling off the MWC title radar after two straight losses -- the first to UNLV at home, the second a 58-45 defeat at Wyoming. "Falling off" isn't this program's M.O. these days, so it was fair to expect the Aztecs to come out strong at home against New Mexico. What I didn't expect was New Mexico to struggle so mightily on the offensive end, scoring just 34 points in the loss. Both sides played some ugly offense, but 34 points? Really?
  • Oh, speaking of which, want to hear about the worst half of offensive basketball in the history of Division I? I thought you might! This afternoon, Northern Illinois trailed Eastern Michigan 18-4 at the half. It shot 1-for-31 from the field and finished the half with 29 straight misses. In the process, according to ESPN Stats & Information, NIU broke Division I records for fewest points (4) and lowest field goal percentage (3.2 percent) in a half and tied the all-time record for fewest field goals in a half (1). Yeah. It was that bad. Searching for a positive angle, the NIU press release on the game lead with: "Northern Illinois posted its best defensive effort in seven seasons, allowing just 42 points on Saturday afternoon, but it came in a losing effort as the Huskies fell to Eastern Michigan, 42-25, at the EMU Convocation Center." Sure, we scored only 25 points -- but at least we played great defense! Silver linings!
  • A couple of months ago, we might have expected Memphis to struggle with Marshall; before the season, the Thundering Herd, who barely missed out on the NCAA tournament last season, were the only obvious challenger in Conference USA. But with all of Marshall's struggles -- the Herd are 9-11 with losses to South Dakota State, Hofstra, West Virginia, Delaware State and UTEP -- Memphis' squeaky one-point home victory is little more than an artful bad-loss dodge.
  • George Washington pounded Charlotte 82-54 at home, moving to 4-2 in Atlantic 10 play, including a one-possession loss to Temple on Jan. 16. Not a team anyone in the A-10 should want to play right now, those Colonials.
  • Marquette's win over Providence was delayed by the invasion of a single bat. Make of this new knowledge what you will.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

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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.

Numbers to Know: Weekend recap

December, 10, 2012
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Player of the weekend: Brandon Paul, Illinois Fighting Illini
Paul scored 35 points to power Illinois to an 85-74 win at Gonzaga. It takes a performance like that to beat Gonzaga in Spokane. Last year, it was Draymond Green’s 34 points for Michigan State.

Prior to Paul’s performance, Green had scored the most points for an opponent in a win at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Then again, it’s just Gonzaga's eighth loss there since the arena opened in 2003.

Following his 43-point performance last season, Paul is the only active player from a major conference with multiple 35-point scoring efforts in his career.

Stat sheet stuffer: Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State Sun Devils
Bachynski recorded the first triple-double in school history in Arizona State’s 87-76 win over Cal State Northridge. The junior center finished with 13 points, 12 blocks and 12 rebounds.

Over the past 15 years, the only other major conference player to have those totals in a game was Jeff Withey, who did it two weeks ago. The last two Pac-12 players with points-rebounds-blocks triple-doubles were Brook Lopez (2007) and Loren Woods (2001).

(Also of note from the weekend: Bethune-Cookman’s Adrien Coleman had the first triple-double in his school’s history.)

Passer of the weekend: Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse Orange
Carter-Williams put up 15 points and 16 assists in Syracuse’s 108-56 win over Monmouth. It’s the third-most assists in school history, and the most since Sherman Douglas’ D-I record 22 in 1989.

He’s joins Georgetown’s Kevin Braswell (2002) and Providence’s Vincent Council (2010) as the only Big East players with a 15-point, 15-assist game over the past 15 years. Carter-Williams also threw in five steals and four blocks. Not surprisingly, he’s the only player to post such a 15-15-5-4 line in at least the past 15 seasons.

Freshman of the weekend: Anthony Bennett, UNLV Rebels
Quintrell Thomas had the game winner, but it was Bennett who did the bulk of the damage in UNLV’s 76-75 squeaker over California. With Mike Moser suffering an injury just five minutes into the game, Bennett finished with a career-high 25 points and 13 rebounds.

He now leads all freshmen with 19.5 points per game, and is on track to be the first freshman to average 19 points and 8 rebounds per game since Michael Beasley (2008) and Kevin Durant (2007). The last UNLV player in any class to average 19 and 8 was Isaiah Rider in 1993.

Winning ugly of the weekend: Georgetown Hoyas
Look away if you are a fan of scoring. The Hoyas shot just 29.2 percent in their 46-40 win over Towson. That is the lowest for Georgetown in a win since 2000 against Louisville. Georgetown has now held three straight opponents below 42 points for the first time since the 1942-43 season.

Pac-12's most important players

July, 17, 2012
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Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on the Pac-12, click here.

Arizona: Nick Johnson
The shooting guard tapered off at the end of his freshman season, when he averaged just 6.1 points in his last seven games. It will be interesting to see if the presence of highly touted freshman Gabe York and Xavier transfer Mark Lyons will cause Johnson to step up his game.

[+] EnlargeJared Cunningham, Devon Collier
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireJunior forward Devon Collier, right, will be heavily leaned on by the Beavers this upcoming season.
Arizona State: Jordan Bachynski
The 7-foot-2 center was a bright spot for the Sun Devils during an otherwise frustrating season in 2011-12. Don't be fooled by his ho-hum statistics (6.0 points; 4.0 rebounds). In Arizona State's last 13 games, Bachynski averaged 10.1 points, 6 boards and 2 blocks. He'll be one of the top post players in the league this season.

California: Richard Solomon
The 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward was averaging 6.8 points and 6.2 rebounds when he was declared academically ineligible after 13 games last season. It was a huge loss for the Golden Bears, who are a much better team when Solomon is anchoring the defense down low.

Colorado: Andre Roberson
The forward ranked third in the nation in rebounding last season with 11.1 boards per game. Most NBA mock drafts predict that Roberson will be a first-round pick next summer. For now, the biggest question is whether Roberson can lead the Buffaloes to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.

Oregon: Tony Woods
The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Woods put up modest numbers (6.3 points, 3.7 rebounds) after transferring to Eugene last season. Still, the former Wake Forest post player has yet to live up to the lofty expectations that have hovered over him since high school. Oregon will be a different caliber team if Woods takes that "next step" in his final season.

Oregon State: Devon Collier
With Jared Cunningham now in the NBA, the spotlight will shine on Collier. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 13.2 points and 5.3 rebounds as a sophomore last season, when he shot 61.5 percent from the field. He also blocked an average of 1.3 shots per contest.

Stanford: Aaron Bright
The point guard should be full of confidence after averaging 16.8 points and 4.2 assists during Stanford's march to the NIT title. Bright's performance earned him tournament MVP honors. If he plays that way in 2012-13, the Cardinal will be back in the NCAA tournament.

UCLA: Larry Drew
The Bruins' recruiting class has generated a ton of offseason buzz, and rightfully so. But a strong performance by Drew at point guard will be vital if the Bruins hope to be a mainstay in the top 10. Drew was North Carolina's starter before walking out on his team midway through the 2010-11 season.

USC: J.T. Terrell
The shooting guard averaged 11.1 points as a freshman at Wake Forest in 2009-10. He withdrew from school last fall after he was arrested for driving while impaired. Terrell played last season at Peninsula Junior College. Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill said Terrell is one of the most talented players he's ever signed.

Utah: David Foster
The 2009-10 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year missed all of last season with a broken foot. Foster, a 7-foot-3, 243-pound center, will return this season and try to help the Utes bounce back from the worst season in school history. Foster holds Utah's all-time record for blocked shots with 219.

Washington: Scott Suggs
C.J. Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy are the most recognizable names on the roster. But don't forget about Suggs, a sharpshooter who averaged 7.4 points and shot 45 percent from 3-point range as a junior two years ago. The 6-foot-6 Suggs, who redshirted last season because of a foot injury, could be one of the X factors for the Huskies.

Washington State: Reggie Moore
The Cougars might be decent if Moore can keep his head on straight. The point guard was suspended in January 2011 following his arrest on marijuana-related charges. Last season, he played in all 37 games and averaged 10.2 points and 5.2 assists. Moore is one of the most underrated players in the country at his position. His leadership this season will be key.

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