By REED NELSON
If the Mayan Calendar had somehow scared the manic crew over at the NCAA into ending the 2012-13 conference schedule on Feb. 16, would anyone in Eugene have taken issue?
By the evening of Feb. 16, Oregon was 10-3 in Pac-12 play and in first place. Since that overtime win against Washington State, Oregon is just 2-3. They have scored over 70 points just one time (compared to six times in the previous 13 games), been outscored 337 to 323 and lost to Utah, a team that looked so lost at points this season that coach Larry Krystkowiak was rumored to have kept a bag of bread crumbs in his left pocket. If they beat that same Utah team, they would have owned at least a share of the regular season Pac-12 title. But they didn’t, and instead finished third.
If that wasn’t enough, E.J. Singler, Oregon’s leading scorer by default, has managed to put up 20 points in just four games this season, a number so sparse it almost seems accidental. Two of those have come against Utah and one came against Washington State, 10th and 11th place in the Pac-12, respectively. And the lackluster production is no coincidence; he’s shooting just 39 percent from the floor, and his free-throw percentage is down 10.3 points from last year (.909 to .806) and 4.4 points worse at the line than the mark he shot his freshman year.
So why is he the leading scorer by default? It’s due in part to the Dominic Artis Foot Saga. The freshman point guard went down on Jan. 23 with a mysterious foot injury, back when Oregon was 6-0 in Pac-12 play and 17-2 on the season. Since, the Ducks have dropped six games and have looked lost for long stretches on offense. Singler became the primary ball handler in many offensive sets, which is a role he still looks uncomfortable playing. He takes too many contested jump shots, struggles to create space for himself and doesn’t have the vision or the quickness that Artis possesses.
Carlos Emory has shown flashes of brilliance this season, but he has also displayed an uncanny ability to take shots that are two zones past the WTF Zone. Tony Woods should be the work horse down low — he’s taller than just about anyone he plays, he’s more athletic than you’re average clown-shoed center and he has developed a nice jump hook that allow him to use his really, really long arms on the offensive end — but he also seems to enjoy picking up two early fouls the same way that Dana Altman enjoys clapping and shouting in unison. He picks up nearly three a game, which has limited his minutes to 21.5 a game.
But luckily for the Ducks, their early success should be enough to secure a bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Pac-12 Tournament is another animal entirely. It’s scary, it’s unpredictable, it’s sloppy, it’s Washington-y, IT’S IN VEGAS.
The Pac-12 was once a formidable conference. They won twice in the ’90s (UCLA and Arizona) and plenty of titles before that. The addition of Utah and Colorado has done nothing to cheapen the experience, but the decline of UCLA and Arizona certainly has. Now the Pac-12 is a weird, eclectic bunch without a unique style or signature feature. Or at least without a signature feature that anyone would promote1.
Gone are the days of the O’Bannon brothers, encased in the carbonite of the past are backcourts featuring the likes of Mike Bibby and Miles Simon and Jason Terry. The Ware Brothers are certainly not the Lopez’s and E.J. is just a different player than Kyle was.
It’s not that the quality of play is deplorable, unwatchable or even unenjoyable (the sloppiness has actually made the individual games more interesting than those in some of the more bell-curvy conferences. I’m looking at you, SEC and ACC), it’s just that it’s wildly unpredictable.
Which is exactly why the predictions must be made. So, in honor of SXSW, The Avengers and Shakespeare, which will forever be synonymous (thanks, Joss Whedon), The Much Ado About Nothing Pac-12 Tourney Preview!
Part I: First-Round Picks
Round 1, March 13
Game 1, #8 Stanford vs. #9 ASU: Stanford beat ASU back in February, a 62-59 win in Palo Alto, but they didn’t see each other again. Come tourney time, any tourney time, star power seems to prevail (see: UCONN, 2011) and ASU’s Jahii Carson is a star. He’s averaging 17.7 points and 5 assists a game, and split the conference’s Freshman of the Year honor’s with the highly touted Muhammad. Pick: ASU.
Game 2, #5 Colorado vs. #12 Oregon State: OSU was 4-14 in Pac-12 play, but one of those four wins came against Colorado on Saturday. Does the new logo have powers? Was it an aberration? Does Spencer Dinwiddie have the coolest last name in the Pac-12? I say yes to all three, but I like the Dinwiddie Power to prevail. Pick: Colorado.
Game 3, #6 Washington vs. #11 Washington State: Washington won both times this season and they also have a star (C.J. Wilcox) and the PROGENY OF THE RAIN MAN (AND NO NOT DUSTIN HOFFMAN’S KID) SHAWN KEMP, JR. And yes, Kemp, Jr. wears number 40, just like pops. He also rings in at 6’9, 255 (dad was 6’10, 230) and, oh yeah, did I mention that his name was SHAWN KEMP. Who cares if he plays just 18 minutes a game. He provided the excuse to put this clip in the text. Pick: Washington.
Game 4, #7 USC vs. #10 Utah: Utah is on a high, so is USC. Vegas is six hours from Salt Lake. It is also six hours away from Los Angeles. Both mascots didn’t fare so well historically (although the Ute’s were shown compassion much sooner than the forlorn Trojans. They sat buried for damn near 3,000 years). Utah was 13-17. USC was 14-17. It’s like a Lincoln-Kennedy thing. Or not. USC is a better team than Utah, 17 points better in their first meeting, even if the Utes did win their final two games. Pick: USC.
Part II: The Bracket (with picks!)
Part III: Fun things to watch, observe or otherwise wait for
Shabazz Muhammad: Yes, UCLA will make the tournament. Yes, Ben Howland’s comments about Shabazz suiting up at Pauley Pavillion for the last time were weird and awkward and malignantly ambiguous in the same way that Ben Affleck’s shout-out to J-Garn’s at the Oscar’s was weird and awkward and malignantly ambiguous. But Howling Howland aside, Muhammad has turned into a nice player. Earlier this season, he looked like Kareem Rush. Now, he shows glimpses of the James Harden that Howland passed on coming out of high school. (Side note: If it’s sexist to only compare women to women, and if it’s racist to keep personal comparison’s within the same race, what would be the term for me comparing Muhammad, a lefty, only to other lefty guards? Dexterist? Handist? Sideist? I want out of the rabbit hole I just dove down. I just found out that “Dexterist” is not a bigot of any kind, but rather a fan of the Showtime show. I’m off topic.) He also appears to be finally buying into the star power and playing as such. The Pac-12 needs a bonafide, big-chested scorer, and Muhammad might give us that wish in the tourney. Here’s to a 25 ppg tournament average! And without it, here’s to the re-kindled Kareem Rush comparisons!
Oregon: The Ducks were the darlings of the Pac-12 in the early going, then they were the team still holding on, and finally they were the team that blew an un-blowable conference lead. They finished Pac-12 play at 12-6, but were just 6-6 in their last 12 games. And it wasn’t as if the second half of their schedule was the tough part; they played Arizona and UCLA during the 6-0 stretch. During the 6-6 period, they didn’t face a ranked opponent, en route to losing games to Utah, Stanford, and Cal and Colorado twice. If the Ducks hope to get a seed within the 5-8 range, they will need at least a semi-final run.
Cal: In between coaches shoving players and players shoving players, Cal finished the season 8-2 and did so largely on the back of the fast-rising law-firm of Cobbs & Crabbe. The two guards have put on a “You-go-then-I-go” show for the ages in the last few weeks, hitting clutch jumpers and fearlessly piloting their offense through tense moments. It’ll be tough to pick against those two and even tougher to knock them off, especially with the tortoise-like emergence of Richard Solomon down low.
Ben Howland: Because of this.
It’s in Vegas: B-Roll shots normally suck, but not in Vegas. The camera crews assigned to grab the footage for the commercial-to-game segue’s will actually have to try to not film something illegal, turning those five-second clips into a Where’s Waldo? of nefarious activity. I love Vegas.
- It could be known as the “Bad Shooters Conference” or the “ACC Transfer Reject Conference” or the “Unstable Ben Howland Conference” or “A Rest Stop for Shabazz Muhammad” but I doubt the league would want to put any of those on a billboard.Jump