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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

February 9, 2012 at 11:09 AM

The Arizona conundrum and national notes

The move toward the Pac-12 stretch run begins Thursday night, and there’s a bit of weirdness associated with the race.

I’m using Arizona as the prime example, but it’s actually a broader phenomenon.

The Wildcats, who have a big game with Colorado at 6 p.m. (PST), are recognized to have the easiest schedule down the stretch. Among their seven finishing games are four against the lowest four teams in the league – USC, Utah, Arizona State and Washington State.

So, the question: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Most years, it would be good. Most years, the contending teams in the league have banked enough quality wins, and the league is good enough, that the key issue would be trying to capture the regular-season title.

This year is not that year. So Arizona, more than any other team, is in a position in which its easier schedule could hurt its chances of making the NCAA tournament.

Each time the Wildcats play one of those bottom four – especially sub-200-RPI woofers Utah, USC and ASU – it’s going to drop Arizona’s RPI and its strength-of-schedule rating. A victory over one of those only means you escaped losing to them.

So you can make the case that Arizona would be better served by having a tougher schedule, if the ultimate goal is making the NCAA tournament. (By the way, Washington has three of those bottom four left among its last seven).

To some national notes:
ESPN says Dick Vitale has now done 40 Duke-North Carolina games in his broadcasting career. Can’t believe he’s ever seen a more memorable one than Duke’s Austin Rivers served up Wednesday night.
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun won his third national title last year, but he isn’t exactly blazing glory in his twilight years of coaching. Calhoun had to sit out the first three Big East games for NCAA violations, and now the Huskies are appealing to the NCAA to be eligible for the 2013 NCAA tournament, which they’ve jeopardized with sub-standard APR results. Under their plan, they’d forfeit tournament revenue in 2013, drop their games played from 27 to 23 and bar Calhoun from recruiting off-campus next fall. Meanwhile, things haven’t been sunny on the floor lately, as Calhoun is out with back problems, the team (15-8) has lost five of six and plays at Syracuse Saturday.
Notre Dame is one of the stories of the 2012 season. The Irish lost key forward Tim Abromaitis Nov. 26 and at one point were 7-5, including a 20-point loss at Gonzaga. Now they’re 16-8, they’ve won five straight in the Big East, and beaten five teams ranked at the time of the game.
Speaking of Gonzaga, former Zags guard Grant Gibbs has found a nice niche at No. 15 Creighton. Gibbs averages 7.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and is second in the Missouri Valley Conference at 5.7 assists. The Jays (21-4, 11-3) host Wichita State (21-4, 12-2) in the game of the year in the MVC on ESPN2 at 2 (PDT) Saturday.
Virginia, 19-4 and at North Carolina Saturday, hasn’t had a player foul out this year.
Scott Machado leads the nation in assists (10.0) for Iona (19-5), but the story last week was MoMo Jones, the ex-Arizona guard who transferred and was granted an NCAA exemption to help care for his ailing grandmother. Jones went for 43 points against Canisius, hitting 16 of 23 shots and 7 of 12 threes.
It’s not hard diagnosing the problems of two BCS-conference bottom-feeders. DePaul allows an astonishing .514 shooting in Big East games, and Penn State shoots .383, worst among BCS-conference teams.
For bad shooting, though, consider this: Central Arkansas (7-14) is the worst Division 1 free-throwing team at 55.1 percent, and Grambling State has the poorest field-goal percentage – 34.4.
Chris Lowery began his coaching career at Southern Illinois with three straight NCAA appearances from 2004-06, when the Salukis were one of the nation’s most feared man-to-man defensive teams. But in the last five seasons, SIU is just 67-84.
Damian Lillard of Weber State had games of 40 and 35 points last week to retain his national scoring lead at 25.5. He won his fifth Big Sky player of the week award this season.
Scott Wood of NC State just keeps making free throws. Entering Thursday night’s game at Georgia Tech, he’s hit 64 straight, fourth-longest streak in NCAA history. He’s chasing Butler’s Darnell Archey (2000-03), the record-holder with 85. It’s not a coincidence; Wood is the ACC’s leading three-point shooter at .444.
You get an idea how damaging it is to make 15 turnovers in a first half – as Gonzaga did at Brigham Young – when you realize that 256 teams average less than 15 turnovers a game.
Missouri’s Ricardo Ratliffe is still hanging in there in his chase of Oregon State’s Steve Johnson (1977-81) and the season field-goal percentage record of .746. Ratliffe is at .747.
College Basketball News’ RPI report has the Pac-12 at No. 10 among conferences, with the Mountain West fifth, the Atlantic-10 seventh, the Missouri Valley eighth and Conference USA ninth.
The SEC is only too happy to point out that it just won the BCS title (Alabama), Kentucky is No. 1 in basketball and Florida is a consensus preseason No. 1 in baseball.



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