Posted on: May 12, 2011 10:28 am
Edited on: May 12, 2011 11:08 am
Posted by Eric Angevine
We've talked before about how downright mediocre the newly-named Pac-12 is likely to be this season, as the talent drain that has dogged the league for the past few years continues. Star players are leaving early from Seattle to Boulder, and that's taking a toll on chemistry and experience levels at programs that were once locks to not only make it to the NCAA tournament, but advance to the second or third weekend with regularity.
Weakness amongst the traditional powers could signal opportunity for the league's also-rans in 2011-12, though. Oregon State, which suffered through an 11-20 (5-13) season last year, can set higher expectations based on one simple factor: their best player is still in town.
That player is Jared Cunningham, who would likely be completely unknown outside of Corvallis if he hadn't done this:
In a recent interview with Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic, Cunningham admitted that that one moment had pretty much defined his season, and that it almost didn't happen. "I'm a little surprised," Cunningham said. "I was surprised I even got the dunk. That game was amazing. We pulled it out, and everybody's been talking about the dunk ever since. It feels like it just happened yesterday."
Rather than shrink from the pressure of carrying his team, Cunningham is embracing his role as a potential breakout star in the expanded Pac-12. His Twitter account is full of aspirations and inspirations (and descriptions of the training table food in Corvallis, but I digress). "How high do you have to be to jump over a cloud?... Ima try to accomplish that one day" was one recent favorite, followed just moments later by "I need to add an Allen Iverson crossover to my game. Time to watch some film."
That's big dreams and hard work wrapped up in a package with astonishing natural talent. No telling how long the Beavers will have the 6-foot-4 junior-to-be, so it's time to figure out what head coach Craig Robinson can do to support his budding superstar.
Robinson has a couple of models he can look to from last season's ten-member version of the conference. Neither matches up exactly, but each scenario can prove somewhat instructive. The first is Washington State, where 6-6 Klay Thompson was clearly the player to watch. Thompson had Faisal Aden and DeAngelo Casto scoring around 12 points per game, and Casto's rebounding prowess backing him up. That was good enough for a .500 finish in the league.
The second, more desirable model is the Arizona scenario. With the amazing Derrick Williams as the only obvious scoring threat on the team, head coach Sean Miller was able to sell the rest of the team on a support-by-committee approach, with MoMo Jones' steady but unspectacular hand guiding the team and making sure Williams got the ball when and where he needed it. That approach - in defiance of conventional wisdom that holds that a strong team needs three scorers - led to a 14-4 finish and an Elite Eight run.
Can Robinson reasonably expect to do either? The Arizona scenario seems out of reach. Cunningham is talented, but comes nowhere near the unstoppable inside-out force that Williams brought to bear. Even if he could, OSU's cast of low-scoring support players doesn't seem to be on the same level as the likes of 'Zona's Jones, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Jesse Perry. OSU's second-leading scorer, Calvin Haynes, has graduated, and that's not really terrible news. Haynes put on a miserable shooting performance last season, and didn't really make up for it in any other aspect of his game.
That leaves a whole pile of adequate scorers who need to step up their game. The Beavers had six players averaging right around seven points per game last season, and almost nothing else behind that. The worst news is that one of those players was 6-9 Omari Johnson, who is out of eligibility. That not only takes a potential scorer out of the mix, but also removes his team-leading 6.2 rebounds per game. The best bet to take on that role is rising junior Joe Burton (the guy who missed the shot that Cunningham famously jammed home), who averages 7 points and 5.6 boards per game at a rather bulky 6-7.
Aside from that, the team is small (5-8 Ahmad Starks is the second-leading returning scorer), young (seldom-seen Kevin McShane is the only returning senior) and can't hit the broad side of Coos Bay (42.7 percent from the floor as a team). Recruiting isn't likely to bring much relief unless 6-9 Senegalese import Daniel Gomis and virtually unknown 6-4 Euro guard Challe Barton learn very quickly indeed.
One thing we do know is that Cunningham can score. "Kiss the sky" dunks aren't the sort of points that come along very often, though, so it's incumbent on his teammates to learn how to help him out in every way possible. One skill that Cunningham brings to the table is great defense - he averaged nearly three steals per game last season. Unless he's expected to put each one of those takeaways in the basket himself, he's going to need to feel like someone on the team can accept an outlet pass and do something positive with the dang ol' orange roundie. A tough, dedicated rebounder and sharp point guard play could at least put the Beavs more in the middle of the Pac-12 instead of the bottom. That would at least be progress, and without progress, Craig Robinson is likely to be a goner before too long.
Oregon State has a potential gem in Jared Cunningham. Craig Robinson can increase the overall value of that gem by finding the right setting to enhance its natural shine.
Posted on: March 8, 2011 9:44 am
Edited on: March 9, 2011 8:59 pm
The Pac-10 is certainly not the powerhouse it was two years ago, but the venerable league looks to be on the comeback trail. As the conference tournament kicks off on Wednesday, March 9, both Arizona (25-6, 14-4) and UCLA (22-9, 13-5) have regained some of their shine. The team that seemed the most tourney-ready at the beginning of the season – the Washington Huskies (20-10, 11-7) finished a rather disappointing third in the league standings, but still has the pieces for a postseason run to match last season’s surprise Sweet 16 appearance.
We’ll have to wait a while to see those contenders in action. Wednesday’s games at the Staples Center in Los Angeles belong to the 7-10 seeds, as two of that number attempt to win through to play the top seeds on Thursday. That’s where we’ll look first.
No. 8 Stanford (15-15, 7-11) vs. No. 9 Oregon State (10-19, 5-13), 9:10 p.m. ET, FSN
Craig Robinson and Johnny Dawkins are both still fairly new to the Pac-10, but this game gives each a chance to show where his program is headed in the future. Dawkins likely has Stanford on the way up, as he awaits the arrival of heralded point guard recruit Chasson Randle for next season. Robinson’s situation is a good deal more shaky, though he is in charge of what is easily the worst program in the Pac-10 and has done his best to make the Beavers more athletic. One of the players who exemplifies that movement is Jared Cunningham, who became a YouTube sensation in the early days of the season by throwing down a “kiss the sky” monster jam in a home game against Arizona. Cunningham was one of five players benched by Robinson for OSU’s season-ending game at Arizona State, but if he plays in the tourney opener, the sophomore could be the difference-maker. Stanford will rely on junior guard Jeremy Green (16.5 ppg) for a scoring edge.
The winner of this game will face No. 1 seed Arizona on Thursday.
No. 7 Oregon (14-16, 7-11) vs. No 10 Arizona State (12-18, 4-14), 11:40 p.m. ET, FSN
If you asked most pundits at the beginning of the season, they probably would have guessed that these seeds would be reversed. Oregon has hired a very good coach in Dana Altman, but the program was left in a hideous mess by Ernie Kent: dealing with an NCAA inquiry, without a coach or athletics director for a good while, and leaking transfers and other player departures at a Titanic-like rate. Arizona State was in a rebuilding state, but had a proven coach in Herb Sendek and a talented bunch of freshmen on the way in. Obviously not an elite team, but solid.
Yet here we are. Altman managed to cobble together a roster of leftovers, newbies and retreads that came together enough to win seven games, led by senior forward Joevon Catron (15.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and sophomore E.J. Singler (10.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg). With only seldom-used German freshman Martin Seiferth standing over 6-foot-8, the Ducks played small ball to reasonably good effect. ASU, despite the presence of seven-footers from Canada and Russia, fell into the same mold, with worse results. They’ll look to Pac-10 second-teamer Trent Lockett (13.1 points, 5.3 rebounds) for a small measure of postseason success in this matchup.
The winner of this game will face No. 2 seed UCLA on Thursday.
Title game: 6:10 p.m. ET, Saturday, March 12 (CBS)
Conference RPI: 7
KenPom.com rating: 5
Sagarin rating: 6
NCAA Tournament Locks: Arizona, UCLA
NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: Washington
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance:
Arizona: 2009 (beat Utah and Cleveland State, lost to Louisville in Sweet 16)
UCLA: 2009 (beat VCU, lost to Villanova)
Washington: 2010 (beat Marquette and New Mexico, lost to West Virginia in Sweet 16)
USC: 2009 (beat Boston College, lost to Michigan State)
California: 2010 (beat Louisville, lost to Duke)
Washington State: 2008 (beat Winthrop and Notre Dame, lost to North Carolina in Sweet 16)
Oregon: 2008 (lost to Mississippi State in first round)
Stanford: 2008 (beat Cornell and Marquette, lost to Texas in Sweet 16)
Oregon State: 1990 (lost to Ball State)
Arizona State: 2009 (beat Temple, lost to Syracuse)
Photo: US Presswire
Posted on: January 3, 2011 1:59 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2011 2:23 pm
Posted by Matt Jones
Chris Rock's career is a total mystery. On the one hand, there is the brilliant Chris Rock, one of the five funniest stand-ups in the business, who kills it every time he appears on a talk show or is asked to host any event where he can make fun of the powers that be in Hollywood or Washington D.C. That Chris Rock produced arguably one of the top three stand-up comedy specials in history (Bring the Pain ) and created bits that not only made people cry with laughter, but also led to debates on issues that permeated popular culture. That Chris Rock is an icon and has been quoted more often than any entertainment entity since Caddyshack. We all aspire to be that Chris Rock.
But then there is the other Chris Rock, the one that produces movie stinkers the likes of which would even turn Rob Schneider red with embarrassment. The list of Chris Rock movies is arguably the longest string of movie sludge to have ever been produced by one comedic actor in recent memory. When one reads the titles, Down to Earth , Pootie Tang, Bad Company , Head of State , I Think I Love My Wife, and Grown Ups , memories of ten dollar tickets and misplaced hopes that this would be the movie where it finally clicked for Rock, all come racing back to mind. Its as if when Rock turns his attention to the big screen, he flips off the part of his brain that creates astute social commentary wrapped in comedy and replaces it with benign mainstream drivel wrapped in Kevin James or Anthony Hopkins. Movie Chris Rock is not comedian Chris Rock and to see the two of them side by side would suggest they are different people.
That same dichotomy is evident this year in Corvallis, where Craig "seriously stop saying I am Barack Obama's brother-in-law...it was cute at first, but now it is just annoying" Robinson's Oregon State team seems to have taken on two completely different personalities in non-conference and Pac 10 play. The Beavers' non-conference resume is Rock-like, although without the early CB4 , to demonstrate potential. Oregon State lost to Texas Southern, Seattle, Montana and even something called Utah Valley State, a string of games that probably caused the OSU administration to wonder if John Boehner had a brother-in-law who knew hoops. That Oregon State team looked inept on offense, was incapable of getting key defensive stops and seemed to be in contention with Auburn and Wake Forest for the title of "Worst BCS Basketball Team."
But then, just when all hope seemed to be lost, Oregon State got its equivalent of a call for a new HBO special and entered Pac 10 play, where the Beavers have hit their groove. First came a 80-58 victory over Arizona State, which was dismissed by many as a fluky New Year's Eve score best explained by ASU being without its leading scorer Trent Lockett. But then late last night, after most college basketball fans had been put to sleep by the Seattle-St. Louis NFL game, Oregon State upset Arizona, 76-75, putting the Pac 10 on notice that a rebirth may have occurred. The Beavers now stand 2-0, on top of the Pac 10, and for the first time playing with as if they are visiting David Letterman, not doing a voice over for Madagascar 2 .
What is the real Oregon State team? That is hard to say. With a terrific athlete and scorer in Jared Cunningham and a couple of Seniors in Omari Johnson and Calvin Haynes who provide solid leadership, it could just be that this team needed time to gel and is ready to reach its full potential now that the new life of conference play is upon them. Or it could be that the run against Arizona teams is simply a byproduct of a two games in three days stretch, where the Beavers caught lightning in a bottle and took advantage of a New Year's hangover by its opponents.
Or maybe Oregon State is really Chris Rock. When it plays outside of the Pac 10, it looks into the camera and forgets it possesses even the most basic of skills that made it successful. While in the Pac 10, it finds its groove and transforms into must-see television. Will Oregon State be the transformative "I'm not saying he should have killed her...but I understand " or rather go the way of "I want to get chocolate wasted "...only time will tell.
Posted on: January 3, 2011 12:58 am
Posted by Matt Norlander
This is not how reputations are mended.
The 12-2 Arizona Wildcats just went into Corvallis and did the worst thing they could have done (other than get stuck in Corvallis): lost.
Not good at all for 'Zona, which probably will now claw with other wannabes in the conference to earn the No. 2 spot come the end of the regular season. That kind of finish will hardly guarantee an NCAA berth, even with the field expanding to 68 teams this March.
The Pac-10 is believed to be improved from last season (not hard to do; the Pac-10 was at an all-time low last year year), but these kinds of results are horrifying and hurting the conference's credibility as a whole.
Oregon State was 6-6 entering this game, its six losses coming to teams that were a combined two games under .500, and that's with the help of a couple paper tigers like Colorado and Montana. Where Arizona goes from here, we'll see. But Derrick Williams must get more involved and the team can't lack the focus or energy it so clearly did tonight.
The bright spot — the game did produce a hell of a highlight. Here's Beaver Jared Cunningham with a sick one-handed put-back in traffic (via @bubbaprog) . It's so springy.