Ken Cross, Pac-12 Columnist
Rating the competition at Staples
1) Cal - Colorado ended Cal’s six-game winning streak last weekend, but the Bears have probably been the most consistent team in the Pac 12. Jorge Gutierrez gives Mike Montgomery a mentally tough and physically imposing floor general while Harper Kamp, and Allan Crabbe are capable of having three huge games. Cal is one of the best picks for a sleeper in the NCAA Tournament because the Pac 12 has been ignored all season.
2) Arizona - The key for the Wildcats is to continue to stroke the three behind Brendon Lavender and Kyle Fogg. Arizona has won seven of eight going into Tempe on Sunday and is the hottest team in the league at this point.
3) Washington - Lorenzo Romar has turned in a stellar coaching job in getting back to the 20-win plateau with a rebuilt arsenal. The Huskies are an offensive threat that gets lots of their energy from freshman guard Tony Wroten. Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox are proven scorers.
4) Colorado - Tad Boyle has the best defensive team in the league as CU holds opponents to 39.9% from the field to lead the league. The Buffs also outrebound opponents by around seven as Andre Roberson averages a double-double. (Roberson photo courtesy of Tony Harman/Colorado Athletics)
5) Oregon - Dana Altman has turned the Ducks into a Pac 12 player in just two years. He has a good nine-man group that can conceivably beat anyone in the league on any night. Scoring is balanced, so the Ducks have the versatility to be a threat to get into Saturday night’s championship game.
You Never Know:
6) UCLA - With the release of a Sports Illustrated article pointing at the Bruins as a team in chaos. It might be time to batten down the hatches and play solid team basketball. Tyler Lamb and Lazeric Jones are a dynamic duo in the backcourt that is capable of turning the 16-13 Bruins into the tournament sleeper.
7) Stanford - Chiasson Randle has picked up his game immensely as he has led the Cardinal in scoring in five of the last six games. Stanford defends well, but hasn’t been able to score consistently enough to battle the top of this league.
8) Oregon State - Jared Cunningham may well be the Pac 12 Player of the Year, but the Beavers are last in the league in giving up 79.4 ppg. and allowing opponents to shoot 48.3% from the floor.
9) Washington State - Brock Motum leads the league in scoring
and is sixth in rebounding, but he need consistent complementary
pieces in order for WSU to make a four-day run.
Not a Chance:
10) Arizona State - The Sun Devils have one premiere player in Trent Lockett, but no one else to really step up and carry the freight. ASU doesn’t even have a Top 30 scorer in the Pac 12.
11) Utah - The Utes ended an 8-game winning streak with a win over Stanford. However, there is not enough fire power and athletes to win four games in a row. Larry Krystkowiak has signed a nice recruiting class and the Utes should start to slowly ascend next season.
12) USC - The nightmare of all season will end for Kevin O’Neill, likely in the first round as the Trojans are down to six scholarship players in one of the most injury-ravaged seasons in college basketball history.
Pac-12 News-stand: From the Canadian border to the Mexican border
A discussion of shocking revelations that Ben Howland’s UCLA Bruins program is out of control.
Huskies looking for another Pac-12 title.
Stat of the Week
A win over Oregon or Oregon State this weekend would give the Colorado Buffaloes back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in school history.
Pac-12 Whip-around -Every box out from Pullman to Eugene
Washington’s freshman phenom Tony Wroten may not be far from Pac-12 Player of the Year honors in addition to Freshman of the Year. He has double figures in 26 of Washington’s 28 games plus he has scored over 20 points, 10 times…Washington State’s Marcus Capers will set Wazzu’s all-time games played market 128 this weekend in LA when the Cougars face USC at the Galen Center…Devon Collier of Oregon State leads the league in field goal percentage at 60.3% and has 11 rebounds in each of the past two games…Oregon’s Thursday tilt with Colorado could not only be for a first-round bye next week at Staples Center, but an NCAA bid could be at stake although Pac 12 watchers feel five teams, including the Ducks and Beavers more than pass the “eye-test” of conventional wisdom to be able to play in the field of 68…Cal may be the most underappreciated 23-7 team in recent history. The Bears started the season ranked in the AP and the Coaches Top 25. Currently, they set at 24th in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings and are 25th in the Sagarin Index…Stanford is 13-0 when scoring 70+ points this season and 23-2 over the last two years when surpassing the same number.
The three-point shot continues to be a story on both sides of the ball for Arizona. The Wildcats shoot it at a 37.8% clip while defending at 28.1%. Kyle Fogg shoots at 44.3% from three which will be huge in Pac-12 Tournament and NCAA play as it will allow Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill to roam more freely in the paint…Although Arizona State has struggled mightily this season, the Sun Devils have to like their matchup Sunday against the rival Wildcats. ASU is 6-4 in it’s last 10 vs. the rivals from Tucson…As UCLA winds down what is generally looked at as a disappointing season, coach Ben Howland and the administration are busy defending a Sports Illustrated report that paints the Howland’s program as one out of control and in utter chaos. Transfers, dismissals, and lack of control in practice have been sighted as elaboration for the Bruins’ issues…USC shooting guard Byron Wesley is among the top Pac-12 freshmen in six different category averages: scoring (9.2, 7th), rebounds (5.0, 4th), defensive rebounds (4.1, 2nd), assists (1.8, 7th), steals (0.8, 6th) and minutes (34.4, 1st)…Colorado’s Andre Robertson may be the most consistent defensive player in the nation as 20.9% of Colorado’s defensive possession end because Robertson gets a rebound, block, or steal…Dijon Farr of Utah is the Utes’ second-leading rebounder for the season at 4.8 boards per game. He upped his board game in Pac-12 games as Farr is tied for the team lead at 5.6 rebounds per contest.
Hot and Not
Hot: The Washington Huskies are sizzling and playing with the ultimate in confidence as they survived a hard-fought 59-50 win over Washington State last weekend. Lorenzo Romar’s crew has won four in a row; nine of 10; 12 of 14; adn 15 of 18. UW has won five of it’s last six on the road.
Not: Utah is still searching for their first road win as the Utes are 0-10 in true road games and 0-3 in neutral-site contests.
Cross-Continental, Final take
UCLA expose’ is spell-binding. Knowing UCLA coach Ben Howland and his way of running programs, the Sports Illustrated article this week that paints the Bruins’ program as one that is off course and running out of control is a total antithesis of the way Howland his built his persona and career. Howland, known for his disciplined approach on and off the court, led the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08 has seen his squad garner only a pair of NCAA appearances in the last four years. In those, UCLA flamed out during the first weekend of the tournament. As Howland’s style of play is very defensive-oriented and doesn’t really emphasis a high-octane, open style of exciting offensive play, could it be that some might be tiring of Howland and are trumping information up on the coach to try to force an exit when UCLA’s season ends?
The report sites recent Howland recruits as “immature” and “lacking discipline and morale.” First of all, when a Ben Howland or any other coach sets foot in the houses of recruits for the first time, the impetus is to get to know the players on a personal level away from basketball. At UCLA, the program is always under a microscope and Howland knows this. Therefore, would Ben Howland continue to stick his neck out for players like Reeves Nelson, J’Mison Morgan, and drew Gordon who he has had to dismiss as others have transferred away from Westwood? The answer is a resounding, “No!” The average UCLA booster or supporter needs to understand that discipline, leadership, and methods of communication are 180-degrees from when the days John Wooden patrolled the Pauley Pavilion sidelines. Howland is just another in a long line of UCLA coaches, who is getting a bad rap because times have changed and there is not, nor will there ever be, a team that dominates college basketball as the Bruins did throughout the Wooden years.
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Howland photo courtesy UCLA Sports Information