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Thursday’s Things to Know: Struggles pop up for Pac-12, Georgetown picks up a big win and a wedgie rescues Notre Dame

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There weren’t any matchups between top-25 teams Thursday night, with the main November events still a week away, but there is plenty to discuss from around the country. Here’s what you need to know.

1. A rough night for the Pac-12

After a strong start to the season, the Pac-12 came back down to earth on Thursday.

The league only managed to get just three teams into the NCAA tournament in each of the last two years. But things have been pretty dire since the league expanded ahead of the 2011-12 season. That year the league’s regular-season champion, Washington, didn’t even make the tournament, though Cal (a 12 seed) and Colorado (11) did. That’s it.

Things have, admittedly, improved since then, but that was really the only direction to head, right? Only three times in the last eight years has the conference gotten more than four teams into the tournament. The Pac-12, which as a reminder is a Power 5 conference, has only been ranked as a top-five conference nationally on KenPom three times in the last eight years.

There isn’t much in the way of expectation for the league this season, certainly past the quartet of Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and Washington, but the conference started hot. Entering Thursday, they were 43-4 combined on the season. Still, though, nights like Thursday are difficult to watch.

It was an awful evening for the Pac-12, with Washington State blowing a 16-point lead at home in an eventual 85-77 loss to Omaha of the Summit League, Utah getting blasted 79-55 by the Sun Belt’s Coastal Carolina in the Myrtle Beach Classic and Cal getting demolished by top-ranked Duke, 87-52. Then to top it all off, UCLA lost at home to CAA resident Hofstra. Arizona was the bright spot of the night, and the Wildcats needed to overcome a halftime deficit to beat South Dakota State in Tucson.

Obviously, none of those four teams which lost Thursday were expected to carry the Pac-12 banner this season and 12-team leagues are going to inevitably have some bad teams every season, but, my goodness, is there a better distillation of the overall health of the league’s basketball than a night like this?

Cal was miles away from being able to compete with the Blue Devils while both the Cougars and Utes couldn’t even hang with teams from so-so mid-major conferences. UCLA is the flagship program in the conference and they lost to a Hofstra team that lost their pro to graduation this offseason. It’s a league whose best teams can compete against the country’s best, but has almost no meaningful depth beyond that thin upper crust.

The Pac-12 has had just one Final Four team since its expansion, with Oregon getting there in 2017. That ties the conference with the Missouri Valley over that same period. Some of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the vast majority of the Pac-12 is no good, it makes building an NCAA resume for its good teams more difficult, leaving them with more difficult NCAA tournament paths. Maybe that changes this year if undefeated starts for USC, Stanford and UCLA signal an improving middle class. Thursday’s results don’t signal good times on the horizon, though.

It’s just all around ugly for the Pac-12.

It’s bad news for people who like to stay up late watching west coast basketball, but it’s really bad news for a league whose genuine tradition slides further and further into memory with each passing season.

2. Georgetown lands a top-25 win

The first two years of the Patrick Ewing era at Georgetown have been encouraging, with the Hoyas improving both their overall and Big East win totals by four in Year 2 of the Hall of Famer’s return to his alma mater. It wasn’t enough to get the Hoyas even on to the NCAA bubble last year, though, thanks in part to a horribly weak non-conference schedule.

The Hoyas beefed up their early-season schedule this season, and just saw the first fruits of the decision.

Georgetown ran away from No. 22 Texas in an 82-66 victory at Madison Square Garden to land a potentially resume-booster four months before Selection Sunday.

Ewing has an interesting and talented team with the backcourt duo of James Akinjo and Mac McClung back for sophomore seasons and big man Omer Yurtseven eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from NC State. Testing this group early is only going to pay dividends in the long-run.

Ewing’s first non-conference schedule was ranked 351st by KenPom and last year’s was only marginally better at 292. Now, the Hoyas have already faced Penn State and Texas, with Duke on a neutral floor coming Friday with a road swing at Oklahoma State and SMU on tap before Syracuse visits D.C.

That’s a real non-conference schedule. And Ewing might have the team to navigate it, with the destination ultimately being his first NCAA tournament appearance.

3. Notre Dame rides wedgie to win

There are fewer pure facepalm moments on a basketball court than when a player lodges a shot between the rim and the backboard. The wedgie, as it’s commonly known, is one of the game’s great quirks.

Maybe never, though, has the phenomenon been as welcomed as it was in South Bend on Thursday.

The wedgie helped Notre Dame pull itself out of a tight spot.

Down three, the Fighting Irish got a great look from distance, but TJ Gibbs’ attempt missed its mark. Had it been any normal carom, the game would have just ended with a Notre Dame home loss to Toledo. But no, my friends, Gibbs’ miss was not of the standard variety. It was, indeed, a wedgie. Which means a stopped clock and a jump ball, giving the ball back to Notre Dame with a second to play.

That set up Nate Laszewski’s overtime-forcing triple as time expired in regulation. Notre Dame went on to win, 64-62, in overtime.

Truly, a rescue wedgie.

Former Georgia coach Mark Fox faces uphill climb at Cal

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BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — New California coach Mark Fox’s phone began to buzz nonstop not long after word spread of his hiring. By Fox’s estimate, he received 1,200 text messages from friends, family and alumni.

“It took me a minute but I got back to just about everybody,” Fox joked.

The enthusiasm lingered into Monday as Fox was introduced at midcourt in Haas Pavilion. The school band performed, cheerleaders danced and smoke machines filled the air when Fox and athletic director Jim Knowlton walked out in front of media and invited guests.

“There’s a lot of work in front of us, we fully understand that,” Fox said. “When you climb a mountain you don’t just stand at the bottom and look at the top. At the beginning you might take a glance at the top but then you just focus on the next step forward, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Fox was hired last week after a search that lasted less than a week to replace Wyking Jones.

During 14 seasons with Nevada and Georgia, Fox compiled a 286-176 record that included five trips to the NCAA Tournament, although his teams never made it to the Sweet 16. He spent the past year as an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy for USA Basketball in World Cup qualifying.

At Cal, the 50-year-old Fox inherits a program that is coming off the worst two-year stretch in school history. The Golden Bears won only 16 games in two seasons under Jones and suffered through a school-record 16-game losing streak this season.

Fox said the key to getting Cal back on the right track will be to go one step at a time.

“We want to get a little bit better every day, which will allow us to get better every week, every month and every year,” he said. “If we can do that and stay with some forward momentum, I’m extremely excited about the possibilities of this program.”

Although final details of the deal have yet to be fully ironed out, Fox has agreed to a five-year contract that runs through 2024.

Knowlton said a commitment to academic success was a key factor in the decision to hire Fox. Knowlton pointed to the graduation rate for Georgia’s men’s basketball team, which he said rose from 36 percent to 100 percent during Fox’s tenure.

“His values aligned with those of the university and our department,” Knowlton said. “The more I got to know him, the more I researched him, the more I realized this was the person who is going to help us continue to grow our program. Mark’s one of the most respected coaches in the country.”

Fox is already getting something his predecessors didn’t have. According to Knowlton, plans are in the works for an indoor practice facility to be built somewhere on Cal’s campus.

“Now we’re working on a location, we’re starting to begin the design process, and then we’re going to have to go out and do some fundraising,” Knowlton said. “That’s one of my priorities.”

Cal hires Mark Fox as new head coach

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Cal has hired former Georgia coach Mark Fox as new head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Replacing Wyking Jones, who was fired after two seasons, Fox has taken teams to the NCAA tournament five times. With a 286–176 career record, Fox has a winning track record throughout his 14 years of coaching. But he’ll have to do a better job of making the NCAA tournament after some recent struggles. While Fox did a good job of staying competitive and over .500 with the Bulldogs, they program only made two NCAA appearances in nine seasons.

The Golden Bears struggled to an 8-23 record and 3-15 mark in the Pac-12 as they finished in last place in 2018-19. Fox has succeeded at Nevada and also been an assistant at Washington, so he knows a bit about recruiting out West and being in the Pac-12.

Pac-12 Reset: League is embarrassingly bad

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College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.

To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?

Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?

What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?

What is still left for us to figure out?

We break it all down here.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Pac-12.

MIDSEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tres Tinkle, Oregon State

The Pac-12 doesn’t have a ton of great teams and star power this season. But the 6-foot-8 Tinkle has been the league’s best and most consistent player to this point.

Averaging 19.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game, Tinkle rates in the top seven among Pac-12 players in all of those categories. While Tinkle is a noted scorer and double-double threat, his passing has improved over the course of his college career as he’s smart enough to find the open man when opposing defenses collapse.

Consistency has also been a huge part of Tinkle’s year. Only once has Tinkle played less than 33 minutes in a game this season while 12 points is his season low.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

THE ALL PAC 12 FIRST TEAM

  • Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
  • Luguentz Dort, Arizona State: Surprising many with his play as a true freshman, Dort narrowly missed mid season Player of the Year honors. Dort is putting up 18.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, but he’s struggled over the past few weeks to find his offense.
  • Robert Franks, Washington State: The Pac-12’s leading scorer is putting together a solid senior season. Franks is averaging 22.1 points, 7.9 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor. Clearly Washington State’s best player, the Cougars recently lost multiple games while Franks dealt with a hip issue.
  • Bol Bol, Oregon: Much like Dort, this freshman big man would in the thick of the league’s POY race if he was healthy. Bol is averaging 21.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, but he’s been sidelined with a foot injury since mid-December.
  • Jaylen Nowell, Washington: The sophomore has blossomed into one of the league’s best all-around guards. Nowell is putting up solid numbers as he’s at 17.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for the season while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three.

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

  • NCAA: Arizona State, Oregon
  • NIT: Arizona, Washington, Colorado, Oregon State
  • OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: UCLA, USC, Stanford, Washington State, Utah, Cal

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. The Pac-12 is dreadful

It’s a new year, so I’ll try to be as nice as possible while describing the atrocity that is Pac-12 basketball. But this league is horrendous, so that is going to be tough.

At this point, the Pac-12 currently has no top-25 teams in the AP or Coaches Poll. There is no Pac-12 player even listed as honorable mention for Rob Dauster’s freshly-released Player of the Year Power Rankings. And the conference just finished a December that went down as the worst a major conference had in the last 20 years.

There are numerous other metrics that point to the Pac-12’s overall awfulness. The eye test is probably all you need. Every Pac-12 team has at least three losses, with a sizable chunk of those losses coming in buy games. They are, as a league, 4-31 in Quadrant 1 games. They are 7-10 against the WCC. Nine teams have beaten two Pac-12 teams already this season. Among them: San Francisco (Stanford, Cal), Santa Clara (USC, Washington State), San Diego (Colorado, Washington State), Seattle (Washington State, Cal) and Hawaii (Colorado, Utah).

No team in the Pac-12 currently has more than a two-game winning streak. While I don’t believe the Pac-12 will end up a one-bid league this season (more on that below), it’s definitely a conversation we might still be having in March.

2. Arizona State has a chance to be pretty good thanks to freshman Luguentz Dort’s breakout start

Arizona State freshman guard Luguentz Dort has been perhaps the Pac-12’s most positive surprise through the first part of the season. Although Dort was regarded as a consensus four-star prospect and top-50 type of talent, not many envisioned that Dort would immediately be this good.

Over the last several weeks, however, Dort has seen his blistering start slow down. The past four games, Dort is only shooting 9-for-45 from the field as his high point total is 13 over that span. Arizona State is still talented enough to knock off Kansas while Dort was in the midst of his funk. The Sun Devils were also bad enough to drop a home game to Princeton during Dort’s worst outing of the season.

So what happened to Dort these last few weeks and how will it impact Arizona State going forward? Was it merely a hot start? Are opposing defenses catching on to Dort’s tendencies and slowing him down? If Dort plays at the level he displayed to start the season, then the Sun Devils should have no issues making the NCAA tournament. But it remains to be seen how Dort will handle conference play and how he breaks out of this slump.

3. Younger players will determine the outcome of this league

College basketball has increasingly become an underclass game at the high-major level as the years have rolled along.

But this year’s Pac-12 is particularly young. Many of the league’s best players thus far have been freshmen and sophomores. And most of the teams hoping to make the NCAA tournament will have to rely on those same players to come through and take them to March.

Given the shaky start of the league this season, that’s not guaranteed to happen. Some talented young teams like UCLA have already fizzled out. Others like Oregon need to get healthy. Many of these teams are going to depend on freshmen for the rest of the season and it’s going to come with mixed results.

(David Becker/Getty Images)

THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW

1. Can the Pac-12 rebound and get multiple teams in the NCAA tournament?

So, we already know the Pac-12 is really bad. Can the league still rebound and salvage the season?

It will likely take a few of the top teams like Arizona State, Oregon, Arizona and Washington pooling together and beating up on the other teams in the conference to create a lead pack. As things currently stand, those are the only four programs rated in the top 75 on KenPom with any sort of chance at making an at-large bid.

As long as those four teams don’t suffer horrible losses to teams like Cal, while winning some games against each other, the Pac-12 will have plenty of chances to improve its at-large status before March.

2. Can Arizona get over the hump and make it back to the tournament?

This season was always going to be a difficult one for Sean Miller and Arizona. The FBI’s college basketball corruption scandal hit the Wildcats hard.

It led to many of Arizona’s top recruiting targets going elsewhere. Yet Arizona still finds itself at 9-4 and in good position to make at least some kind of postseason. Whether that’s the NCAA tournament or not remains to be seen.

Arizona finally had its seven-year non-conference home winning streak snapped this season. They haven’t defeated anyone of note besides for Iowa State and UConn. But there’s just something about this team that’s intriguing for some reason. The Wildcats usually defend at a high level. Miller is still one of the best coaches in the country. The three-point shooting has been dreadful at times, but Arizona has still managed. If the Wildcats can figure out some things on offense, then they could be a dangerous team in a down conference.

3. The health of Oregon

Oregon has a chance to figure things out and be pretty good. It all starts with getting healthy.

Freshman Bol Bol has been sidelined with a left foot injury since mid-December as he’s missed the past four games for the Ducks. Head coach Dana Altman has been pretty vague about Bol’s injury, so there’s some uncertainty as to when he might return to the team.

Big man Kenny Wooten will also be sidelined four-to-six months after suffering a broken jaw. And another highly-touted freshman, Louis King, is still working himself back into proper game shape after missing the first several weeks of the season.

If Oregon is able to get fully healthy, they have the weapons to be the best team in the Pac-12. But for right now, that’s a major question mark

(Elsa/Getty Images)

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. The Pac-12 goes winless in the NCAA tournament after getting two teams in

The Pac-12 went 0-3 in the 2018 NCAA tournament. And two of those teams were featured in First Four games.

While I don’t think the Pac-12 is so bad that it’s only a one-bid league this season, things are certainly trending in a negative direction once again. Even if the Pac-12 gets multiple teams into the Field of 68, none of its teams are going to have a desirable enough profile to merit a great seed. The entire process is going to be an uphill battle.

And while Arizona State knocked off Kansas, there haven’t been a lot of marquee wins against quality competition for the Pac-12 this season. Even if the Pac-12 is fortunate enough to get multiple teams into the tournament, I don’t have confidence that they’ll win any games once they get there.

2. Arizona State wins the Pac-12

To this point in the season, Arizona State has defeated two top-25 teams. The rest of the Pac-12 combined has one top-25 win.

And while Arizona State has shown plenty of flaws in some recent losses — particularly some woeful stretches of poor shooting — they have the talent to compete with any team in the country. Dort has looked like a go-to player at times this season and he’s flanked by three more double-figure scorers in Remy Martin, Kimani Lawrence and Zylan Cheatham. The Sun Devils currently have a top-50 defense.

In a league that doesn’t have any truly good teams it says something when Arizona State knocks off a national title contender like the Jayhawks. Unless Oregon gets healthy and figures it all out, the Sun Devils look like the favorite in the league at this point.

3. The UCLA coaching search becomes more interesting than the on-court action

Let’s be honest, with the Pac-12 being as bad as it is on the court this year, the off-court movement of the UCLA coaching search is going to be more fun to watch (or hear about).

The Bruins likely won’t be able to start conducting serious interviews until the end of the season — since most of their presumed targets are currently coaching. But if UCLA decides to make some early moves on an out-of-work coach like Fred Hoiberg or Earl Watson then things could get really interesting.

To be clear, UCLA is not making a change for this current season. But the framework will be put in place for the coaching search, as we’ll start to hear names trickle out of the Westwood over the next several months. The UCLA job isn’t what it used to be. It’s still an elite program with an unmatched history conducting a coaching search with big names being thrown around in the middle of the season. That sort of thing rarely, if ever, happens in college hoops.