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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.

Pac-12 loosens intra-conference transfer rule

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The Pac-12 approved a measure Monday that will lighten restrictions on players that want to transfer to schools within the conference.

Players who now make an intra-conference transfer will no longer be subject to an immediate loss of a season of eligibility, the conference announced.

“This rule change removes one of the last remaining penalties associated with transferring between Conference schools,” the league said in a press release, “and is designed to provide student-athletes with a similar experience to any other student who decides to transfer.”

The league also has passed rules to beef up its non-conference schedule as programs will be required to a non-conference five-year trailing average of opponents’ NET ranking must be 175 or less, no participation in road buy games, no regular season games against non-Division I opponents and no road games versus a non-conference opponent with a five-year trailing average of 200 NET. Those requirements, along with the move to a 20-game conference schedule, come in response to continued struggles by the league in basketball, with last season seeing the league flirt with being a one-bid NCAA tournament conference. Ultimately, its league champion, Washington, received a No. 9 seed with Oregon getting a 12 and Arizona State an 11 and a First Four invitation.

 

San Francisco coach Kyle Smith in negotiations with Washington State

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Washington State appears to have its man.

San Francisco’s Kyle Smith is in negotiations with the school to take over the job after the Cougars fired Ernie Kent earlier this month, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Rothstein was the first to report.

Smith has won at least 20 games in his three seasons with the Dons after spending six years helming Columbia, going 25-10 his last season there.

Kent failed to post a record of .500 or better in his five seasons in Pullman.

If Smith ultimately takes the job, San Francisco is expected to promote associate head coach Todd Golden to the top spot, sources tell NBC Sports.

Washington State fires Ernie Kent after five seasons

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One day after its season ended with a loss to Oregon in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, Washington State has parted ways with head coach Ernie Kent. News of the firing was first reported by SI.com’s Jon Rothstein.

Kent spent five seasons in Pullman, posting an overall record of 58 wins and 98 losses. Against Pac-12 competition the Cougars were just 22-68 during Kent’s tenure, with the program’s best conference mark being a 7-11 record during the 2014-15 season (Kent’s first at the school).

Washington State finished the 2018-19 season with an 11-21 overall record (4-14 Pac-12), losing six straight and seven of its last eight games. Senior forward Robert Franks and freshman guard C.J. Elleby both earned postseason honors, with Franks being a first team all-conference selection and Elleby being named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team.

Thursday’s Things To Know: AAC stays tied, Lagerald Vick steps aside and Pac-12 troubles magnify

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There weren’t many surprising results from the top-25 teams in action across the country on Thursday night, but there was significant news from both Kansas and Gonzaga (Killian Tillie can’t catch a break) while the AAC gets a dream matchup Sunday and the Pac-12 continues to be a nightmare. Here’s what you need to know”:

HOUSTON AND CINCINNATI BOTH WIN ROAD TESTS

It could have been an interesting night in the American. No. 12 Houston and No. 25 Cincinnati, both sporting matching one-loss conference records, were on the road against potentially tricky opponents in UCF and Memphis, respectively. It would have been easy to envision one losing, adding some tension into the league race or having them both taking Ls, injecting chaos into a league that’s been pretty orderly.

Both, though, won and continued to separate themselves from the rest of the conference and setup a monster showdown Sunday.

The Cougars had no trouble with the Knights, claiming a 77-68 victory, while the Bearcats held off the Tigers, 69-64.

Corey Davis, Jr.  had a big game for Houston, going for 26 points, five assists and three rebounds It was Jarron Cumberland unsurprisingly starring for Cincy with 17 points, six assists and six rebounds in a game the Bearcats had to really compete down the stretch to finally finish off.

Now, let’s talk about this weekend.

The first matchup between the two AAC frontrunners comes Sunday, with the Bearcats visiting Houston in what should be one of the marquee games of the weekend and the first of two bouts between these two teams.

It’ll be an interesting matchup with neither team sporting elite offenses, but strong defenses and deliberates paces. Cincy’s best bet will likely be to try to turn defense into offense as it has been solid in creating turnovers while that’s one of the areas the Houston offense hasn’t excelled. The way for most teams to attack Mick Cronin’s defense is at the 3-point line, but that’s not the strength of the Cougars, who instead rely on their offensive rebounding and the fact they don’t really have to score that much with how good their defense has been.

KANSAS LOSES A STARTER

It was just last week I used this space to muse about the vulnerability of Kansas’ Big 12 title streak. Sure, things looked less than great for the Jayhawks, but we’d seen that plenty over the course of the last 14 years only to then see Bill Self’s team ultimately on top of the conference standings.

But now it feels like bad is getting increasingly worse for the Jayhawks.

The school announced Thursday that starting guard Lagerald Vick will be taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with personal issues while his mother told the Kansas City Star he was needed back home in Memphis “for a couple weeks.”

Vick has been wildly inconsistent this season – and his playing time has been lately as well – but he’s a player that the Jayhawks are going to sorely miss for however long his absence runs. The margin of error for Kansas was already shrinking with a 6-4 league record and Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Baylor all looking like threats, and now losing a player like Vick, even with his flaws, only tightens that window. Dedric Lawson is now likely to see even more aggressive double teams with Kansas’ best 3-point threat off the floor and no clear player capable of replacing his 45.5 percent shooting from deep. It’s more than just losing a starter for Kansas, it’s losing a player that was providing a skill that Kansas has in short supply and allows its best player – Lawson – to be better.

Maybe Self figures this out or maybe Vick’s time away is short, but with the cascading bad news for Kansas, it feels like things are more likely to get worse than better.

THE PAC-12 IS REALLY TRYING TO BE A ONE-BID LEAGUE

Yes, it’s easy to pile on the Pac-12 for being awful this season. Sure, it’s probably been covered plenty this year that the league is down, even by its recent pedestrian standards.

But, I mean, c’mon. The conference just never seems to help itself.

Washington stayed perfect by beating Arizona in Tucson while Arizona State took a HORRIBLE loss at home to Washington State.

The Wildcats have now lost four-straight and five of their last six while Arizona State loss 91-70 to a Cougars team that was 8-14 overall and 1-8 in the Pac-12 in its home gym. I repeat, the Sun Devils lost by 21 POINTS to a team that previously had only managed to WIN A SINGLE GAME IN A HISTORICALLY TERRIBLE CONFERENCE. Bobby Hurley’s squad ain’t lookin’ so good right now.

Neither is the Pac-12, which continues to flirt with being a one-bid league.

Be sure to read Bubble Banter to get the in-depth look at what Thursday night meant, not only to the Pac-12, but the rest of the country trying to position itself heading into the regular season’s final month.

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.

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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.