College Basketball Nation: Ken Bone

1. Texas lost 18 games last season. The Longhorns won seven in the Big 12 and were shut out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since head coach Rick Barnes arrived in 1998. Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis were third and fourth, respectively, on the team last season in turnovers with a combined 112 and are both transferring. Jaylen Bond, who battled a foot problem for most of the season, also left. According to a source, the decisions weren’t solely the players'. Should Texas be worried that these three, as well as NBA-draft-bound guard Myck Kabongo (23-game amateurism suspension), are out of the program? If last season’s freshmen class is on board with the way Barnes wants to play, the answer is no. Ioannis Papapetrou, Javan Felix, Connor Lammert, Demarcus Holland, Prince Ibeh and Jonathan Holmes will be the core of next season’s team. Holland clearly likes the idea of what remains in Austin. He tweeted after a workout on April 30: “Honestly never loved a team like I do now. Feels great when you can get it in, say family on three, and really feel like brothers. #Horns.’’ At the time, Bond, McClellan and Kabongo were all gone. Barnes told his staff that he wants to get back to the teams he has had in the past, with players who will play with toughness and display the passion for winning. According to someone close to the program, despite the defections, the staff has looked at this spring as one of its best in terms of player development. The Longhorns also brought in four newcomers for next season. Texas will be picked in the lower half of the league, below Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State. The onus is on this crew, led by someone like Holland, to propel Texas back to its rightful place in the Big 12, in competition behind Kansas. If these departures are addition by subtraction, Barnes will know early on. If not, next season could seem like a dog year.

2. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said there were logistical issues that could not be worked out for the proposed Dec. 7 game against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., to honor former Spartans coach and Spokane resident Jud Heathcote. So the game is off -- along with the proposed undercard of Washington State versus Montana. Wazzu coach Ken Bone said Idaho had been willing to move a date for the Cougars, but now that is unnecessary. Meanwhile, an SEC official said the league didn’t have criteria for not including Georgia, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee in the inaugural SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Scheduling conflicts and the need to balance the series were why those four schools were omitted in a challenge between a 14-team SEC and a 10-team Big 12. Still, organizers probably could have tried to get star-laden Oklahoma State a higher-profile game than hosting rebuilding South Carolina.

3. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said being away from his family was the reason he is stepping aside from coaching the U.S. under-19 team with Florida’s Billy Donovan and Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart in the world championships June 27-July 7 in Prague. Along with the practice sessions, it becomes nearly a month's commitment. The three coaches won gold a year ago in Brazil with the under-18 squad. Virginia coach Tony Bennett will take Few’s spot on the staff. In an event taking place July 6-17 in Kazan, Russia, Davidson’s Bob McKillop, Michigan’s John Beilein and South Carolina’s Frank Martin will coach the U.S. team at the World University Games. Meanwhile, Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim is diversifying his international basketball career. Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said Ejim will play for Canada this summer after playing for Nigeria a year ago. Hoiberg said Ejim has dual citizenship from the two nations.
1. Syracuse wasn’t the only newcomer the ACC took care of in scheduling. Notre Dame has a tremendous first-year schedule in the league with home games against North Carolina and Duke. Three Big Ten nonconference games are also on Mike Brey's daunting overall schedule, two of which were out of his control. It was Notre Dame’s turn to play Indiana in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis, and the Big Ten-ACC Challenge gave the Irish a road game at Iowa. Notre Dame had already scheduled the Gotham Classic in Madison Square Garden against Ohio State. “We’ve got three Big Ten teams on the schedule but I don’t want our fans to think we’ve joined the Big Ten,’’ said Brey. The Irish will also play three potential postseason teams in Delaware, Bryant and North Dakota State in the Gotham Classic in leading up to the Ohio State game Dec. 21 in NYC. Santa Clara and Indiana State, two other teams with postseason ability, come to South Bend. “Our fans are going to be spoiled by getting Carolina and Duke coming to South Bend,’’ said Brey. “We’ve got BC, Georgia Tech as our repeat games and Virginia and UNC too. Having Duke and Carolina coming here in the first year in the ACC is knocking it out of the park. We’re fortunate.’’ Brey considered playing a road game against Baylor in Dallas to start the season but then decided against it and wanted to get a home game for new point guard Demetrius Jackson. “He’s a key guy for us so I want to him to play 20-something minutes at home,’’ said Brey. “With the schedule we have, we’ve got enough games on the road and neutral.’’

2. Washington State coach Ken Bone said Idaho coach Ron Verlin agreed to move a game against the Cougars on Dec. 7 so Wazzu could participate in the Jud Heathcote event -- an event celebrating Heathcote's legacy at the four schools where he has either coached or -- in the case of Gonzaga -- has a passion for. Washington State will play Montana in the undercard while Gonzaga will host Michigan State at Spokane Arena on Dec. 7. Heathcote lives in Spokane where he coached high school basketball at West Valley High. He’s a regular at Gonzaga games. He also coached at Montana and Washington State before winning a national title with Magic Johnson at Michigan State in 1979. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo served under Heathcote before replacing him. Gonzaga coach Mark Few has become extremely close with Heathcote, as well.

3. Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel and Anthony Bennett all will be unable to participate in next week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago on Thursday and Friday (live coverage on ESPNU 10 a.m. to 2 p.m./ 2-3 p.m. ESPN2 each day). That means there will be ample opportunity for even more players to shine in what has become a wide-open draft. At each of the five listed positions, there is at least one player who could really benefit from the lower numbers. Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, who is being discussed as a first-round lock, has a real shot to move up among the point guards. This will be a critical few days for those watching Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin among the shooting guards. The same is true of Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas with the small forwards, BYU’s Brandon Davies with the power forwards and Kansas’ Jeff Withey with the centers.
1. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Thursday on our ESPNU College Basketball podcast that underclassmen should be able to work out for NBA teams before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft. That was the rule before the change by the NCAA in 2009. Izzo saw forward Adreian Payne take his time before opting to return to East Lansing. Izzo is a proponent of one date instead of the two current ones -- the NCAA's arbitrary one, with nothing binding, a week after the Final Four and the NBA's real deadline on the last Sunday in April. "I've never seen so much confusion,'' Izzo said. Izzo was also agreed with the point that if NBA teams paid for the workouts, it would alleviate one of the concerns the NCAA has had about extra benefits for draft hopefuls.

2. Izzo also said Michigan State and Gonzaga are trying to finalize a game at Spokane (Wash.) Arena on Dec. 7 to honor the life of former Michigan State coach and current Spokane resident Jud Heathcote. Heathcote attends Gonzaga games when he is able. Izzo said the plan was to have a doubleheader involving the four schools Heathcote coached or has a strong affinity for: Michigan State, Gonzaga, Washington State and Montana. Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said he'd love to do it, but Washington State coach Ken Bone said he has a scheduling conflict.

3. The NCAA Board of Directors officially recognized and ratified the new Big East Conference and the name change of the old Big East to the American Athletic Conference. That means the NCAA tournament will officially have 32 automatic berths in 2014 and 36 at-large berths. It also means that everyone had better get used to the American conference because unless significant expansion occurs again, the American is here to stay.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

March, 8, 2013
Does anyone want to win the Pac-12? The regular-season championship trophy has been dangling in front of the Oregon Ducks, UCLA Bruins and Cal Golden Bears all week, but no one has stepped up and grabbed it.

Cal was manhandled by Stanford -- at home, no less -- on Tuesday. UCLA suffered one of the biggest upsets of the conference season by falling at last-place Washington State on Wednesday. Oregon had a chance to clinch at least a share of the title by beating Colorado on Thursday. Instead, the Ducks were blown out in Boulder.


Name another league where the teams at the bottom are outplaying the teams at the top at the end of the season. The Pac-12 tournament can't get here fast enough.

Here is the final edition of the Pac-12 power rankings. With most of the top teams losing their most recent games, these rankings are based on the entire conference season.

1a. Oregon. Despite the tail-kicking the Ducks received at Colorado on Thursday, it's impossible not to be impressed with the job Dana Altman has done with this squad. Oregon -- which starts two freshmen in its backcourt -- can clinch at least a share of the league title by winning at Utah on Saturday. A Ducks victory and a UCLA loss (at Washington the same day) will give Oregon the title outright.

1b. UCLA. The Bruins have come a long way since losing to Cal Poly early in the season and, for that, Ben Howland deserves credit. Howland's detractors, however, received some extra ammunition Wednesday when UCLA lost to last-place Washington State. Performing that poorly in a game with such high stakes -- UCLA would own a share of the league title already if it had won -- is inexcusable.

1c. Cal. The Golden Bears' regular season is complete. Mike Montgomery's team finished league play 12-6 and can only get a share of the title if both UCLA and Oregon lose Saturday. Much like its counterparts, Cal wilted in a high-stakes game Tuesday when it fell to Stanford 83-70 at home. The Cardinal became the first team in 10 games to reach the 70-point plateau against Cal.

1d. Colorado. With six wins in their past eight games, the Buffaloes are the Pac-12's hottest team. Tad Boyle's squad swept its season series with Oregon and is 4-2 against Top-25 teams. Thursday's 76-53 victory came without the services of Andre Roberson, the nation's leading rebounder, who missed the game with a viral illness. Colorado will close the regular season hosting Oregon State on Saturday.

5. Arizona. The preseason pick to win the league, the Wildcats have been the Pac 12's biggest disappointment. Sean Miller's squad is just 1-5 against the top four teams in the conference. Arizona's highly touted freshmen have been slow to develop, and the Wildcats lack a true point guard.

6. Washington. After a month-long lull in which they lost seven of eight games, the Huskies are getting hot at just the right time. Lorenzo Romar's squad has won four of its past five, with the most impressive victory a 65-57 decision over USC on Wednesday. Washington, which gets 17.1 points per game from C.J. Wilcox, has a chance to spoil UCLA's Pac-12 title hopes Saturday.

7. USC. The biggest news surrounding the Trojans this week has revolved around their head-coaching vacancy. UTEP's Tim Floyd and Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins both have spoken with school officials about the position. Meanwhile, interim coach Bob Cantu continues to do a solid job. USC will finish Pac-12 play 10-8 if it can win at Washington State on Saturday. That's something no one envisioned after head coach Kevin O'Neill was fired in January.

8. Stanford. The Cardinal completed the regular season with an 18-13 overall record and a 9-9 mark in Pac-12 play. Unless it wins the conference tournament, Stanford will miss the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive year. That has to be disheartening to Cardinal fans, who had high hopes after winning last season's NIT.

9. Arizona State. The Sun Devils' 20 wins are twice as many as they had all of last season, but they've struggled in recent weeks. A painful overtime loss at UCLA was followed by a one-point setback at USC. Arizona State will have had an entire week off when it takes the court for Saturday's regular-season finale at Arizona.

10. Utah. The Utes ended a four-game losing streak by topping Oregon State on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Utah's four Pac-12 wins are one more than last season's total. The Utes will try to spoil Oregon's conference title hopes Saturday. Oregon beat Utah 73-64 on Feb. 9 in Eugene.

11. Washington State. The Cougars, who have been the victim of bad breaks and bad luck all season, finally tasted success Wednesday by defeating UCLA 73-61 in Pullman. Brock Motum had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Royce Woolridge added 19 points. The victory came despite the absence of second- and third-leading scorers DaVonte Lacy and Mike Ladd, both of whom have knee injuries. Coach Ken Bone said Lacy is out for the season.

12. Oregon State. It has been a nightmare of a season for the Beavers, who have now lost five consecutive games. Coach Craig Robinson appears to be safe for another year, but this team has too much talent to only have three victories in a league that, despite its parity, lacks elite teams.
1. At least one coach in the new Big East, filled with the Catholic 7 schools and likely Butler and Xavier, has been told to anticipate a 16-game schedule next season, according to one source with knowledge of the situation. That would force the seven Big East schools -- Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, DePaul and Marquette -- to get two more non-conference games after playing 18 in the Big East this season. Of course, if Creighton is chosen as the 10th member for next season instead of in 2014, the league can pull off a true round-robin, 18-game league schedule, much like the Big 12. That's what the league should do to have a major splash in Year 1. The league's new television partner, expected to be Fox, would probably like to have two more games per team to show.

2. I don't understand why four Stanford assistant coaches and Cal assistant Gregg Gottlieb were ejected from the Cal-Stanford game for coming onto the floor to break up a scuffle Wednesday night. The assistant coaches were acting as peacemakers and trying to ensure the situation didn't escalate. Gottlieb was reacting to a volatile situation. Were the assistant coaches expected to just sit there and watch a full-scale fight? At some point, common sense has to factor into some of these decisions. If the assistant coaches were doing more harm than good, fine. Gabriel Harris of Stanford and Richard Solomon of Cal were also ejected -- but not for fighting, meaning they wouldn't have to miss their respective teams' next games, in the Pac-12 tournament. The conference could always add to the discipline if warranted.

3. Give Washington State coach Ken Bone and Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory a lot of credit for ensuring their teams were still playing with purpose and passion in the final week of the regular season, despite no shot at the postseason (barring miraculous runs in the Pac-12 and ACC tournaments, respectively). The Cougars' victory over UCLA in Pullman on Wednesday had to give Bone such relief after a rough season. The Yellow Jackets, mired in the bottom third of the ACC, denied Miami the chance to clinch the league's regular-season title with a last-second putback. The same is true of Nebraska's Tim Miles, who had the Huskers ready to pounce on Minnesota in Lincoln. South Florida, meanwhile, has won two in a row at the bottom of the Big East. This final week of the season has proven to be as unpredictable as the season as a whole.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Utah. The Utes are better than last season, but they're still considered the worst team in the league along with Washington State. Utah lost to Larry Brown's SMU squad 62-55 in Dallas on Wednesday. Dallin Bachynski, a 7-footer from Calgary, averages 11.5 points (second on the team) and 9.0 rebounds (first).

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

January, 2, 2012
We're still very much in wait-and-see mode in the Pac-12, but we do have a few results to chew on after last week's league-opening games:

1a. California
1b. Stanford

This configuration might be just a tad bit unfair to Stanford, which was No. 1 in last week's rankings and which beat the exact same teams -- UCLA and USC -- that Cal defeated in the first two days of Pac-12 play. So, as a peace offering, I didn't fully relegate the Cardinal to No. 2. Technically, they're still tied for the top spot. To me, the gap between these two teams, based on their nonconference performance and their near-identical first week of play, is too minor to forge any significant distinctions.

Still, I thought Cal looked a bit more impressive in its two season-opening wins (particularly in its 85-69 handling of UCLA), and the Bears have the benefit of efficient offense to go with stifling defense. Right now, Stanford's stagnant offense still looks like it could hold Johnny Dawkins' team back. Until that gets sorted out -- and/or another challenger to the throne emerges -- Cal looks like the favorite to win this league.

3. Washington: Is UW that aforementioned emerging contender? OK, OK, let's not get ahead of ourselves -- the Huskies still have their fair share of issues on both ends of the floor. That said, it was hard not to notice this team's improvement in last week's victories over Oregon State (95-80) and Oregon (76-60). Sure, both came at home, but so did Washington's loss to South Dakota State. The team we saw last week looked nothing like the one that yielded 92 points to the Jackrabbits.

Instead, the Huskies -- led by freshman guard Tony Wroten, who notched 43 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists in those two wins -- look like they're building the chemistry and defensive toughness that plagued them so frequently in their 6-5 start. There is much more work to be done, of course, but this team could yet round into a bona fide conference title favorite in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

4. Arizona: The Wildcats had few issues with in-state rival Arizona State in their Pac-12 opener, but that was their only result of the week and ASU is simply not a very good team. So I didn't award a lot of credit here. But the Wildcats handled business, and they, like Washington before them, are still improving in a variety of ways. Buy low, I suppose.

5. Oregon: The Ducks didn't look all that impressive in Saturday night's loss to Washington -- or maybe the Huskies were simply better -- but in either case, they deserve credit for going into a tricky neutral-court venue in Spokane and coming out with an easy win over Washington State. A 92-75 victory over Wazzu doesn't mean much in a vacuum, but on the road, this early in league play, it's still a solid accomplishment.

6. Oregon State: Why is Oregon's win at WSU impressive? In part because the Ducks' sworn enemies -- the hated Beavers of Corvallis, which sounds like an army regiment from the French and Indian War -- were unable to do the same. Instead, OSU went 0-2 in its first two conference games, following up that 95-80 loss at Washington with an 81-76 loss in Pullman. This team jumped out to a 10-2 record in the nonconference, including its efforts to secure the Pac-12's only moderately impressive win (Texas). Still, Oregon State was hardly going gangbusters before league play started, even against a relatively meager nonconference schedule. Was that record a mirage? Or is it simply that tough to win on the road? For now, I'm going with the latter. But we'll see.

7. Washington State: The Cougars had been getting by on offensive efficiency for much of the season, and that trend seems likely to continue going forward. It needs to, anyway. Bone's team simply doesn't defend all that well, and it paid dearly for it in that 92-75 home loss to Oregon. Wazzu's next three games are all on the road, and while the first two opponents (Utah and Colorado) don't strike fear into anyone's heart, a slip-up in either game ahead of Jan. 15's trip to Washington could be make-or-break, at least in terms of perception.

8. UCLA: Bruins fans holding out hope that the Pac-12 season would bring fresh success to this struggling club were left wanting last week, as UCLA began conference play with two consecutive losses. To be fair to the Bruins, those losses were entirely understandable -- both came on the road, one to Cal, one to Stanford. The Stanford loss -- a 60-59 defeat -- was particularly forgivable. Sure, UCLA isn't used to looking for positives in one-point league losses; that's not how this program rolls. But as far as encouragement goes, that's what I've got. Had a possession or two swung in the Bruins' way, they'd surely be ranked much higher than this. That's a step in the right direction at least.

9. USC: The Trojans fell to 0-2 in league play and 5-10 overall last week, but I'm willing to cut them some slack. Like UCLA, USC played on the road in the Bay Area, and its defense -- SC is an excellent defensive team -- kept both games within striking distance throughout. The Trojans lost 53-49 to Cal and 51-43 to Stanford. Expect to see a lot of those kinds of results from this team, which can defend with the best teams in the country. Unfortunately, it just can't seem to score.

10. Colorado: I could see ranking Colorado above USC; after all, the Buffaloes are 9-4 overall and 1-0 in conference play after their opener. But I couldn't pull the trigger, and here's why: USC, for all of its problems, has at least one definable skill: defense. Colorado, at least thus far (and to my eye, which I admit is far from omniscient), doesn't. And, sorry, but I can't move a team up just because they beat poor Utah's brains in (73-33) at home. I mean, a win's a win, and you play your schedule, and so on ... but I still need to see more.

11. Arizona State: The Sun Devils didn't get Utah-style-crushed in their league opener at Arizona (final score: 68-51), so that's something. And Herb Sendek's team does appear to be improving on the defensive end. But make no mistake: This team is bad. That didn't change in the past seven days.

12. Utah: Alas, as has been the recurring theme of the Pac-12 power rankings, the Sun Devils are bad -- just nowhere near as bad as Utah. (When you think about how ugly ASU's play has been -- and you consider the fact that a player like Chris Colvin is using 25.8 percent of his team's possessions despite a 69.0 offensive rating, and that's just one example -- that's saying something.) On Saturday, the Utes were utterly crushed, 73-33, by Colorado, by my lights the 10th-best team in one of the worst power-six leagues we've seen in years. Last week, Utah ranked No. 313 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. This week, they rank No. 334. No. 334 out of 344! That's three places below SIU-Edwardsville and two below Maryland-Baltimore County. And it's only the first week of Pac-12 play. Man. It's going to be a long season in Salt Lake City.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

December, 27, 2011
The Pac-12 only gets more convoluted and confusing with each passing week, but the conference power rankings, like any good Broadway show, must go on. Here's my latest attempt to make sense of this muddled West Coast landscape as the Pac-12 prepares to commence league play this week. (Spoiler alert: The Pac-12 is bad.)

1. Stanford: Surprised? So am I. After all, Stanford's only result since last week's rankings was a 71-66 home loss to Butler, which came after the Cardinal allowed the offensively bereft Bulldogs to streak to a downright shocking 45-point second-half. Considering Stanford has no great wins, and much of its early ranking hinged on that close contest with Syracuse in November, you'd think Johnny Dawkins' team would take a tumble in the conference power rankings. When I sat down to write these rankings, I didn't think Stanford stood any chance of staying in the top spot. But as you dig in to the rest of this league, you realize that Cal remains the only other contender for this spot, and I find it difficult to move Stanford below the Bears when Mike Montgomery's squad was so thoroughly trounced by UNLV last week. So Stanford remains. Someone has to be No. 1, I guess.

2. California: The Bears may well be the best team in this league. Ken Pomeroy's advanced metrics indicate as much. But Cal isn't doing anything to inspire confidence that its efficiency in wins over inferior opponents can be replicated against top competition. Consider Friday's drubbing at UNLV. The Bears entered Friday's game having outscored their last four opponents 301-189. Then, in Vegas, Montgomery's squad looked absolutely dreadful -- stagnant offensively, weak defensively and arguably timid in many respects -- as the Rebels blitzed for 40 minutes en route to an 85-68 blowout. This was Cal's second game against a ranked opponent. Its first, against Missouri, ended 92-53. Add it all up, and you get a team that has 10 wins against inferior opponents, one forgivable one-point road loss to San Diego State, and two absolute blowouts at the hands of top competition. So, yeah, maybe Cal is the best team in this league. But if they only look good against bad teams, what does "good" even mean, anyway?

3. Arizona: The Wildcats didn't do much last week, but they'll hold steady at No. 3 if only because they didn't lose. Rather, Zona got past a tricky Oakland team at home and put 100 points on Bryant two nights later, and that -- plus their promising if uneven performances throughout the nonconference schedule -- doesn't offer any obvious reason to move them below any of the teams that follow.

4. Oregon State: OSU is now tied for the best record in this conference, with its 10-2 mark matched only by Stanford. And that record isn't all fluff, either: A Nov. 19 win against Texas might in fact be the best nonconference win the league has (as sad as that is). But since Dec. 9's home loss to Idaho, Oregon's State's four wins have come against Illinois-Chicago, Howard, Portland State and, this week, Chicago State. Those are some of the worst opponents in Division I hoops. For that reason, it's hard to trust that gaudy record, not until the Beavers can test this apparent improvement against someone ranked higher than No. 230 (that would be Portland State) in the Pomeroy rankings.

5. Oregon: The Ducks notched three wins in three days last week, but all three (NC Central, Prairie View A&M, Stephen F. Austin) were cupcakes. Meanwhile, last week's missed opportunity -- when Oregon let Virginia escape from Matthew Knight Arena with a second-half comeback win -- is still a cause for concern. Given Dana Altman's track record as a coach, and the way he got the maximum from his first team in Eugene last season, it's fair to expect some improvement in Pac-12 play. But the Ducks still have a long way to go.

6. Washington: The Huskies looked much sharper in a home win over Cal-State Northridge last Thursday, but really, there's nothing new to report here. The Huskies still look like the most talented team in this league. They should still be considered a favorite to contend for the regular-season crown. Unfortunately, they're still maddeningly inconsistent, confused about their offensive roles, defensively porous and, to paraphrase Washington coach Lorenzo Romar's words, missing that distinct, hard-to-define chemistry all good teams must develop before they can become more than sum of their parts. The talent here is undeniable, but league play starts this week, so the clock is already ticking. This could go either way. We'll see.

7. Washington State: The lack of movement in these rankings is the theme of the week, and Ken Bone's team is no different. The Cougars are getting decent play out of senior guard Faisal Aden and aggressive interior work from junior forward Brock Motum, but they remain sloppy and turnover-prone and have spent their December racking up five wins against decidedly inferior competition. This team isn't bad, per se. But we can't exactly call it good, either.

8. UCLA: If you can't always tell by my tone, yours truly tends to get a little frustrated when teams spend huge stretches of their nonconference schedule toasting cupcake teams. Go out and play somebody, you know? But UCLA's December of inferior competition couldn't have come at a better time. After a November that featured blowout home losses to Middle Tennessee and Loyola Marymount, a disastrous trip to the Maui Invitational and the eventual dismissal of forward Reeves Nelson, UCLA needed some comfortable, confidence-inspiring victories, and it appears to be paying dividends. At the very least, this record -- 2-5 through a Dec. 3 loss to Texas -- is back above .500 in time for the start of Pac-12 play. We don't know if UCLA is actually better, or just beating up on bad teams, but either way, it doesn't really matter. This is why (or at least partially why) coaches schedule so many cupcakes. Sometimes, your team just needs a few wins.

9. USC: Unlike most of the Pac-12, USC actually had an important fixture on its calendar last week, a date with Kansas at the Galen Center in LA. And USC was essentially USC. The Trojans played a slow-paced game and held KU to 63 points, a product of the rapacious defense Kevin O'Neill's team has played so often this season. The only problem with this, of course, is that SC just can't score. The Trojans scored a mere 45 points against the Jayhawks. They rank No. 245 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. You should expect O'Neill's squad to stifle more than a few of their Pac-12 opponents in the coming months, and they'll no doubt steal a few wins against allegedly superior squads between now and March. But this putrid offense is like an invisible ceiling. Without at least some offensive output -- something, anything! -- this team can only go so far.

10. Colorado: The Buffaloes' 7-4 record is better than the Trojans' and Bruins' and the Huskies'. So why does Tad Boyle's team still rank so low in this league? Because unlike those teams, the Buffs don't do any one thing particularly well. For the sake of brevity, Colorado is average offensively and awful defensively. I wouldn't be surprised if this team shows real improvement in the weeks to come, but with per-possession numbers this pedestrian, I'm hesitant to make that prediction.

11. Arizona State: If Herb Sendek didn't have more pressing things to worry about -- namely, how to get his apparently awful team moving in a positive direction -- he could some spend time lavishing everyone responsible for bringing Utah to the Pac-12 (conference commissioner Larry Scott, Utes brass, even Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany) with gifts. For yet another week, only Utah's near-historical ineptitude is keeping this Sun Devils squad out of the power rankings cellar. In any other season, we'd look at this team -- now 4-8 with three straight home losses to Northern Arizona, Southern Miss and Fresno State -- as the "worst power-conference team in the country" contender it would have been. Either way, Arizona State is in a bad way, and if the current trend continues into league competition, the nascent questions about the "future of the program" (read: Sendek's job security) will only grow more vociferous.

12. Utah: And then there's Utah. (Last week, I tried on a few alternate, Utah-related headlines for this column. But I think "And then there's Utah" might be our winner.) The good news first: The Utes topped Idaho State and Portland two weeks ago. Wins are wins. The bad news? Both teams are ranked outside the top 225 or so teams in the nation in adjusted efficiency. Even worse, Larry Krystkowiak's team followed those meager signs of progress with an 80-51 road loss to Weber State, a thrashing at the hands of a team that, for reference's sake, lost by 20 to Cal. In the meantime, the 3-9 Utes are ranked No. 316 in the country in adjusted efficiency; the list of teams in their statistical vicinity (The Citadel, Radford, Mount St. Mary's, Texas Pan-American, et al.) is comprised those for whom a trip to the NCAA tournament play-in game is a basketball season's ultimate hope. This is some historically bad basketball coming from Salt Lake City. With Pac-12 play commencing this week, where do the Utes go from here? I don't know. But it could be fascinating to behold.

Wazzu gets help on ethics and morality

November, 9, 2011
Washington State was embarrassed last year when three of its top players had separate run-ins with the law over marijuana, and this offseason coach Ken Bone has tried to change the team culture by getting the Cougars to go out and perform community service. Apparently, Bone didn't stop there with finding ways to teach his players.

According to the Seattle Times, Bone also enlisted the counsel of Dr. Sharon Stoll, director of the Center of Ethics at Idaho.
They had lunch over the summer, Stoll explained her program, and Bone said, "That's exactly what we need."

From the time the Cougars ended their season last March with an ugly semifinal loss to Wichita State in the NIT in New York, Bone has tried to impose a change in culture. He believes Stoll's series of character-building sessions has been effective.

"We had a talk at that time," Bone said, referring to the aftermath of the blowout in New York. " 'If you're going to be in the program, this is the way it's going to be.' We're trying to have a culture of excellence, on and off the court.

"They've embraced that idea. Our guys have been involved in almost everything they can possibly be involved in, to reach out to the community. They're in a position to be role models and they need to understand that."

According to Stoll's bio: "She is considered one of the leading authorities in competitive moral education intervention techniques for college aged students in America." If what the Cougars needed was an intervention, now they're getting it through professional help from a sports ethicist.

That should come as a relief to those who believe the program has been plagued by off-court issues. Ultimately, it will come down to the players to improve in that area. Few can say that Bone isn't at least trying to help.


Washington State cleans up team culture

September, 27, 2011
Washington State filled its news section this offseason with stories of community service. The Cougars helped one woman build a house with Habitat for Humanity, encouraged academics with kids at a basketball clinic, walked in the National Lentil Festival Parade in Pullman, and hung out with senior citizens at a community center.

The headlines came in stark contrast to the negative ones last season after three of the team's top four scorers last season were cited for separate marijuana infractions, with Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore serving suspensions.

According to The Spokesman-Review, coach Ken Bone made it an offseason priority to change the culture by dedicating them to work in the community.
The Cougars who spent the summer in Pullman not only did basketball workouts and weightlifting, they also volunteered for multiple community projects.

Though the coaching staff initiated the process, Bone said, the players ran with it.

"In probably any business you need good character to persevere," Bone said. "We had some issues last year that we think we've done a great job of cleaning up."

Issues needed to be addressed after athletic director Bill Moos in an interview with The Spokesman-Review was critical of the student-athlete culture on campus in wake of a third men's basketball marijuana incident involving DeAngelo Casto last March.
"I'm not sure we have a championship mentality here. We have to instill in our student-athletes a mentality that Saturday's game is more important than tonight's party. We're in a location that has a lot of positives, but Pullman is also extremely visible and our young people need to be aware of that."


"But we still need to address the drug issue in this department," Moos said. "In a perfect world, if the Pullman police or campus police wanted to target our athletes, there would be nothing to target."

Now that Pac-10 scoring champion Thompson and rugged big man Casto have turned pro following an unsatisfying 9-9 conference finish that resulted in a trip to the NIT, the rebuilding process begins.

At Washington State, the culture apparently needed to be rebuilt as well.

College basketball to NFL draft is doable

May, 4, 2011
If Gonzaga guard Demetri Goodson hoped to boost his pro potential by leaving basketball and transferring to play football, consider that one athlete from the Pacific Northwest showed it could be done just this past weekend.

The Denver Broncos selected Portland State's Julius Thomas in the fourth round of the NFL draft on Saturday, seeing potential in a player who starred on the basketball team for four years before walking on as a fifth-year senior to play tight end.

Thomas, a 6-foot-5 forward who played in two NCAA tournaments, had the game-winning dunk in the 2009 Big Sky title game, and averaged 10.8 points as a senior, told reporters that then-coach Ken Bone discouraged him from playing both sports as a freshman and said he could always use his redshirt year to play football after his career, which he did despite only one year of high school football experience.

Bone earlier this year recalled Thomas was his Jon Brockman on the court, and his basketball background ultimately helped his chances in football. The 246-pound Thomas caught 29 passes for 453 yards and two touchdowns in his lone college season on the gridiron.

"One of the things that I think really helps me is anticipating things quickly, and when you play basketball, you're required to anticipate at the drop of a dime," Thomas told reporters. "You learn certain things, and it gives defenders a look. We're used to setting guys up, getting open and working with body contact, and I think those things really help you become a natural person, and it gives you natural passing lanes for the quarterback."

Thomas said coaches at the NFL combine told him he had a lot of ability and a long way to go, which is a good thing.

"I think that is something teams are excited to hear about," he said. "I haven't really tapped out my potential."

Washington State searches for consistency

March, 10, 2011
It's only been his second season, but Washington State coach Ken Bone has already experienced quite a ride since taking over the program. To briefly sum it up, the Cougars had promising 10-2 starts in non-conference play in both seasons, but then finished last in the Pac-10 a year ago and sixth this season by going .500.

There have been glimpses of potential, with the Cougars routing Gonzaga at home and having a nice showing at the Diamond Head Classic (to some extent a five-point loss at home to Kansas State counts). There have been some turns in fortunes, with nagging injuries hurting the team and Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore being busted for marijuana possession in separate incidents which resulted in each being suspended for a game.

Here's how guard Marcus Capers described this season to The Spokesman-Review:
"Ya, it's had its ups and downs," Capers said Wednesday after the Cougars' final pre-Pac-10 Conference tournament workout, a practice delayed because WSU was stuck in Pullman an extra day due to snow and a canceled Tuesday flight.

"I feel we could have done better, but one thing we were constantly struggling (with) was our consistency," said Capers, a junior whose role has been anything but consistent this year, swinging back-and-forth from wing to point depending on Reggie Moore’s health. "When you don’t have consistency, your team is going to be a roller coaster during the season."

That brings us to tonight, as Washington State hopes to make its way off the bubble starting with a win against rival Washington. The Cougars have already swept the regular-season series, and the Huskies will be down a man with reserve guard Venoy Overton getting suspended for the tournament. Bone, a former UW assistant under Lorenzo Romar, knows there are few secrets between these two teams.

The Cougars certainly have the personnel to not only beat the Huskies a third time, but also win the entire tournament. Thompson led the conference in scoring while Moore, who is having an injury-plagued season and is expected to return from an ankle injury, burst onto the scene last season. DeAngelo Casto is a load to handle inside, Capers is a reliable presence, and sixth man Faisal Aden has the ability to provide instant offense.

The issue -- as Capers said -- has been consistency for a program that isn't accustomed to sustaining success like some of the other Pac-10 powers. It has crept up on a day-to-day basis, as Moore and Aden have missed practices battling nagging injuries. There's been a leadership question as well, with Thompson putting himself in a poor position with the marijuana incident and also previously showing up late for the team bus. And as a team, the Cougars have struggled on the road, getting swept by the Los Angeles and Arizona schools.

When will it all come together for the Cougars? The long-term answer remains unclear (as does Thompson's NBA draft decision), but there's plenty of opportunity over the next three days to make a strong statement.

Washington State likes at-large chances

March, 7, 2011
Washington State heads into its first-round Pac-10 tournament game against Washington as a No. 6 seed with uncertainty in its backcourt, but coach Ken Bone feels the Cougars might not need to win the tournament to make the NCAA tournament.

"Even though we lost the other day to UCLA, I still feel right now that if we were to get to the championship game, I feel we'd have a good chance of getting in," Bone said.

Washington State could very well have conference scoring leading Klay Thompson available in the tournament after he was suspended for the UCLA game after being cited for marijuana possession.

Bone said he would make the decision in the next 24 hours after Thompson practices, but seemed to indicate that Thompson's public apology to fans before the game and Reggie Moore's one-game suspension for a similar offense would be weighed heavily in the decision.

"It doesn’t seal the deal, but it's a great step in the right direction," Bone said. "He was very sincere, and I think his apology came from the heart. That can't be a very easy thing to do for a young man. We as a staff appreciated what he had to say.

"We like to be consistent with our actions when it comes to disclipline."

The Cougars, if they reach the Pac-10 championship, would be 21-11 with three wins against Washington and non-conference wins against Gonzaga and then-ranked Baylor.

Washington State finished .500 in Pac-10 play, with the team's previous two losses coming with Thompson out of the lineup against Arizona State due to being late for the team bus, and against UCLA from the marijuana incident.

Moore's status is also unknown for Thursday's opening-round game after he missed the regular-season finale with a sprained right ankle.

Klay Thompson's suspension is untimely

March, 4, 2011
Washington State is fighting to position itself for a chance to make the NCAA tournament, and then this happens.

Klay Thompson, the Pac-10's leading scorer and an NBA prospect, has been suspended for Saturday's regular-season finale against UCLA -- a crucial game that will determine conference tournament seeding and how much of a shot the Cougars have of going dancing.

Shortly after scoring 22 points against USC, Thompson was pulled over and cited for the 1.95 grams of marijuana found in his vehicle. It left coach Ken Bone no choice but to suspend the star guard after previously having benched point guard Reggie Moore for a similar infraction.

This was horrible timing for Thompson. Just two weeks ago, Bone kept him out of the starting lineup for being late for the team bus and the Cougars ended up losing to Arizona State. Only afterward did Bone find out that the tardiness was over a misplaced iPod. So it's been a bad stretch for the guy that should be looked upon as the team leader.

The other factor in this that hurts Washington State is that Moore is a question mark going into the UCLA game after he left Thursday's game in the first half with a sprained right ankle and spent the rest of the contest on the sideline in a protective boot. The Cougars are expected to turn to Faisal Aden, who has shown tremendous scoring ability, but has also battled knee issues throughout the season.

The Cougars' season began with much promise as they went through nonconference play with a 10-2 record and Thompson regained his shooting form after struggling a year ago. They have beaten Gonzaga, Baylor and swept rival Washington.

But because of uneven play in the conference season, a loss on Saturday could drop the Cougars as far down as the sixth seed in the Pac-10 tournament.

And Thompson won't be able to help.

Mychal Thompson, his father who works for ESPN 710 in Los Angeles, said he received a 7 a.m. phone call from Klay and thought, "uh, oh."

"He put himself and the team in this situation knowing the consequences," said Mychal, a former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. "It's disappointing to me.

"He seemed to realize he messed up. If this isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is."