Archive for December, 2008

Shooting Problems & Muscle Strains

After one of their best performances in a 17-point win over Kansas two days before Christmas, Arizona seemed to be putting all the pieces together. Budinger was quiet offensively, which is a concern, but Jamelle Horne and Kyle Fogg both stepped up big. Arizona was making great strides towards being truly ready to compete for a PAC-10 crown.
A week later, Jordan Hill misses an insignificant game against Weber State from the Big Sky Conference. It was prevalent how important Jordan Hill is to the Wildcats. The ‘Cats failed to find offensive consistency, and weren’t able to pressure the Wildcats of Weber State on the perimeter. Even still, I wasn’t too concerned because I figured that Pennell was taking a precautionary measure to give Hill’s leg time to fully heal. That was until I read this excerpt in the AZ Daily Star.
UA center Jordan Hill did not practice Tuesday and remains day-to-day with a muscle strain in his lower left leg, according to UA spokesman Richard Paige.
Hill hurt the muscle in practice Saturday and did not play Monday against Weber State, though Pennell said he is likely to play against the Bears.
It wasn’t a huge concern for me that he didn’t play in a game, but missing practice leading into PAC-10 play concerns me. Hill needs to be ready to perform as Arizona makes a trip to the Bay Area in hopes of their first road win of the season. CAL is a very good team that is well coached, and Stanford is always a tough road win.
My concern is heightened by the fact that Chase Budinger has been in a shooting funk recently. Budinger is 4-for-23 in the last two games. Even though Horne and Fogg stepped up in the Kansas game, Arizona had Hill on the floor. If Arizona faces off with CAL, Stanford, or any other team in the PAC-10 that doesn’t have a wood eating mammal for their mascot without Hill in the lineup and Budinger having an off night it will likely result in a loss.
I don’t mention this because I want to be an alarmist, or because I’m lacking faith in these kids. But this is a young team with two of it’s three key players inactive or ineffective heading into conference play. Hill will return, and if Pennell is right it will be just in time. Budinger will eventually break out of his shooting slump, but in the mean time, and in the long run as well, the ‘Cats need Jamelle Horne and Fogg to continue to build upon their recent efforts.

PAC-10: Contenders vs. Pretenders

As PAC-10 play has drawn closer, I’ve been taking a good look at the different teams and haven’t been too startled by what I saw. The only exception to that has been the success of Stanford and their undefeated record after losing the Lopez Twins to the NBA. They are even receiving votes in the AP and the Coaches polls! So I started kicking around the teams trying to sift through the soft OOC schedules, and misleading stats trying to figure out who will challenge for the PAC-10 crown this year.

The obvious choice is going to be UCLA. Sure, they’re down from the past two or three years, but they’re still a potent team with stifling perimeter defense and the best backcourt in the conference. But I didn’t want to just stick with “UCLA wins it… again,” I wanted to really dig into the conference. So pretend that UCLA is out of the equation – they lose Collison to a knee injury or for whatever reason the team implodes costing them 5 or 6 games and effectively the conference title.


Now I’d love to pick my Arizona Wildcats, that would be a great farewell gift to Olson for putting this team together, and a nice reward for Pennell and Co. who stepped in to pick up the pieces in the wake of Olson’s sudden retirement. However, they’re a very inexperienced team that is relying on three main players and a supporting cast that is largely unknown and mostly unproven. Despite this, Arizona is a strong candidate to play for the conference title. However, to prevent the homer pick of Arizona, we’ll pretend that Jordan Hill’s strained calf muscle is a torn ligament and he can’t play until next year.


Let’s whittle down the options here by eliminating teams that even with just eight teams to choose from, still don’t have a chance. First to go is clearly Oregon State. They are barely a .500 team against competition that is severely sub-par of PAC-10 caliber. With losses to Howard, Yale, Montana State to name a few, there is little hope of them picking up 2 wins this season.

Next off the board has to be Washington State. I like their program and their deliberate style, but at some point when push comes to shove you need a guy that can get to the rim and take over a big game. Their leading scorers (Aron Baynes 11.4 ppg, Klay Thompson 11.0 ppg, and Taylor Rochestie 10.2 ppg) are not players that can get terribly physical and have yet to show up against a quality team. All four of their losses have come against the only opponents on their schedule that could compete in the PAC-10. During these losses (Pitt, Baylor, Gonzaga, and LSU) their three leading scorers combined for an average of 26 points. If they want to compete, someone needs to step up.

Elimination next stops in Eugene, Oregon with the Ducks. They lost a lot of talent gone to wasted efforts last year, and brought in a solid recruiting class. Their youth isn’t coming along as quickly as Ernie Kent would probably like, and they’ve lost a couple ugly games because of it. If I were going strictly by record, they’d be off the board before WSU; However, they do have a good amount of talent and finally have a good inside presence with Michael Dunigan. Dunigan is a bad performance or two away from having been the Ducks’ leading scorer to this point. The potential of this team far exceeds Washington State right now, and that’s why Oregon gets a spot ahead of WSU.

Picking the middle of the remaining teams is almost like splitting hairs. Stanford is undefeated because of exceptional backcourt performances, and Washington has three losses, and no quality wins, but have a huge frontcourt advantage. So who’s next?

It has to be Stanford. I’m impressed with their 9-0 record after losing the Lopez Twins and all frontcourt presence from a year ago. That is, I’m impressed until I look at who they’ve played. Their only reasonably good win is Santa Clara, and only by 8 points. The Cardinal backcourt of Mitch Johnson, Anthony Goods, and Landry Fields appears to have stepped its game up a notch from a year ago. Heading into conference play the three guards account for 48 percent of the Cardinal’s scoring. Guard play is extremely important, especially in the PAC-10. But with opposing guards like Harden, DeRozan, Rochestie,  Randle and Christopher to face off against, it’s going to be difficult to outmatch any team in the backcourt. Despite the performances of Lawrence Hill and Josh Owens, Stanford needs more inside presence if they want to win the conference this year.

Like I said, this is like splitting hairs. Stanford needs inside presence, but Washington needs another scorer. The frontcourt of Jon Brockman and Matthew Bryan-Amaning is the most formidable in the conference and the inside size advantage alone is what sets them ahead of Stanford. But the Huskies are still waiting for Quincy Pondexter to step up consistently and become the wingman he has the potential to be. Pondexter has only had three of those games this year with 21 points, 16 points, and 14 points, but not one of them against a good defensive team. The Huskies’ backcourt consists of the forementioned Pondexter and two guards under six-feet – Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon. Thomas is the second-leading scorer with 14.8 ppg followed by Dentmon at 12.4. These two guards have the capability to get to the rim, draw the foul, and shoot from beyond the arc. But guards under six foot have a history of falling off the table during conference play. When matching up against taller guards like Collison of UCLA, or Fogg of Arizona the height becomes a huge disadvantage. Clearly, if Washington wants the title they need a guard taller than 6′ to step up – namely Quincy Pondexter.

The remaining three teams are clearly head and shoulders above the five I’ve already covered. And picking the gem amongst them is extremely difficult. I know that no matter what order I put them in, there is going to be debate and argument over it. Each team has a solid case for the best of the group, but ultimately I feel it comes down to who has the most rounded unit combined with coaching ability. Since coaching adjustments, team management, and the fact that when push comes to shove the coach is blamed if they fail and only given a quiet congratulations if they succeed, the head coach has to be the distinguishing factor amongst these three teams.

For that reason, USC has to come off the board. Tim Floyd has done a good job with these kids. They play a very physical and aggressive style of basketball. Combined with four legitimate scorers and you’ve got a recipe for success. But my problem with this team comes back to Tim Floyd. It isn’t their style or abilities that has me concerned. It’s the fact that Floyd has permitted this program to become merely a stepping stone for players like Mayo and DeRozan to take until they are allowed to move on to the NBA. That type of individual play leads to turnovers (conference high 16.8 per game), and will ultimately cost them games against teams with better chemistry. It’s Floyd’s job to counter that, and I don’t believe he’s capable of it – after all, it was his recruiting that built that scenario.


So now we’re down to Arizona State and CAL. An easy pick if you listen to the media, right? Wrong. Take a look at both teams stats. Statistically they are almost identical with the majority of their scoring coming from four players, and fewer than 5 point per game from the rest. The largest separation between the two teams, statistically, is opponents points per game. CAL is giving up 64.3 while ASU is only 58. So who do you take? I go with CAL.

First while Arizona State has gotten additional help from Rihards Kuksiks, who has doubled his ppg production from a year ago up to 10.8 points per game, they still don’t get consistent production from anyone except James Harden, and that’s a problem. Arizona State is only as good as Harden performs within his team. Want proof? Look no further than the IUPUI and BYU games. Against IUPUI he didn’t show up and was too busy talking with Amare Stoudemire behind the ASU bench to care. He tallied 9 points and ASU got lucky with a one-point win. The other problem is if he becomes selfish against a good team. Harden dropped 30 on a good BYU team, but ASU struggled to a controversial win – another one point margin. Harden can carry the Sun Devils far, but when teams like UCLA make him the defensive focal point as they did last year, Harden becomes ineffective as a team player and ASU struggles. If the Sun Devils  want to be best out of this group it’s going to take a team effort and more than the Harden/Jeff Pendergraph combo to do it

Once again, it comes down to team chemistry and how well they play as a collective unit and how much faith I have in the coach. This CAL team has had the most talent in the conference, outside of UCLA, for the past couple of years, but hasn’t been able to capitalize on it under Ben Braun. With the hiring of Mike Montgomery this team almost instantly became better. Montgomery has these kids playing hard, shooting well, and playing as a team.  CAL is getting great production from all over the court. They have the size to compete with Brockman & Washington, and the guards to compete with anybody in the conference. That’s why I have CAL ahead of USC, ahead of ASU, but just barely. 

So when it comes to contenders and pretenders it is pretty clear. Stanford and the schools from Oregon and Washington are pretenders who will make their way to a first round exit from the PAC-10 Tournament and perhaps an NIT invite. Leaving the PAC-10 crown to be contested by the LA area schools, the Arizona schools, and CAL.

What Type of Sports Fan Are You?

One of the greatest things about sports are the fans. You’ve got the fans with too little shirt and too much mid-section, the crazed college students, season ticket holders, casual fans, avid fans, the guys with signs that have acronymns spelling out the broadcast channel, reserved alumni, and so many more that I have barely made a scratch in the surface. Despite the fact that fans have many ways of showing their enthusiasm for their team, I have ultimately come to the conclusion that there are really only two types of sports fans.

First there are those that love the efficient, calculated, talented teams that near perfection and want to see the dynasties rekindled. Then there are the fans that love the drama, suspense and excitement of the underdog pulling off the cinderella story and beating the proverbial Goliath.

The Perfectionist:This type of sports fan enjoys watching teams like the Patriots go 18-0, and even if they don’t like the team will pull for them to get that final win. They like watching teams like the Spurs be consistent, effecient teams that make few mistakes, and they are always there in the end fighting for the next ring to put on their hands. They have a great appreciation for the art, strategy, and talent required to play the game.

Typically these fans perfer to watch the NBA instead of the NCAA Tournament. They like baseball more than football, and on occassion might carry their own score card. If this were a personality, they would be most like a “Type A” personality. They attend games in polo shirts and slacks, or wearing shorts if it’s hot outside. But for the most part it’s about the science and the art that is the game.

The Cinderella Man:  This type of fan likes to watch George Mason dance it’s way through March on a Cinderella story that lands them in the Final four, even if they couldn’t tell you what the mascot is or what city they call home. This fan enjoys watching teams like Arizona beat 3 #1 seeds on the way to the National Championship, or the Colorado Rockies make the World Series. And of course, they really love it when teams like the Giants pull of the upset against a team like the Patriots looking for perfection. The trick plays of Boise State are a dream come true. It’s about the stories, about the small market team pulling off the win. It’s about the Cubbies winning after 99 long, desperate years filled with Blunders and Bartman’s. These are the crazy fat guys in Green Bay who don’t wear shirts in 8 degree weather. The loonies who paint not just their faces, but their entire body or wear costumes.

These fans love the NCAA Tournament where anything can happen. They thrive on overtime, and if their team isn’t playing will pull for the underdog just as feverishly if it were their al ma mater.  These are the “Type B” sports personalities.

So what kind of fan are you? Type “A” or “B”? Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle… but chances are, you can tell by whether you prefer NCAA Basketball of NBA Basketball.

As for me, give me Cinderella!

December 2008
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PAC-10 Power Rankings

1. Cal 2. Washington 3. UCLA 4. Arizona 5. Oregon 6. Oregon State 7. Arizona State 8. Washington State 9. Stanford 10. USC

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