Tuesday morning marked the first Pac-12 men’s basketball teleconference of the season. Since most teams have played about a third of their seasons already, there was a lot of ground to cover. Here are some highlights:
Coach Sean Miller made no bones about it: Some of his previous ‘Zona teams didn’t display the toughness he wanted, as he was more accustomed to from his years playing in the Big East (at Pitt) and coaching (at Xavier). So he’s happy with what Mark Lyons, the Xavier transfer who hit the winning bucket against Florida the other night, has brought.
“First of all, Mark Lyons is a great competitor,” said Miller, whose team is 8-0 entering a game tonight with Oral Roberts. “He competes in practice, competes in virtually every drill we have . . . sometimes that can be contagious. He’s somebody who has been a part of two Sweet 16s and two regular-season (Atlantic-10) championships. Not to suggest the rest of our team isn’t tough. But in any sport, you look at one player who has that, and other people on his team, they believe in it, and it starts to become a part of what they do.”
Miller also lauded sophomore Nick Johnson, who leads the team in scoring at 13.8. But right behind are Lyons (13.5) and Solomon Hill (13.0).
The Sun Devils (9-2) have gotten a big boost from point guard Jahii Carson, who was ineligible last year, says Herb Sendek: “He’s been terrific out of the gate for us. He has really played well. We just rely on him to do a lot of things for us.”
But after a promising start, ASU dropped a 78-61 game to undistinguished DePaul at home the other night. “We were three for 15 from three, and then 8 of 19 from the foul line,” Sendek said. “That doesn’t give you a lot of breathing room.”
The Bears (6-3) are struggling offensively, shooting just .324 from distance (Allen Crabbe went 6 of 26 overall against Creighton the other night), and their bigs aren’t shooting well inside.
“We need more from our bigs,” said Mike Montgomery. “It’s a team issue. We’ve got to know where our bigs are, and get them the ball in a fashion (where they can do something with it). We need to work harder at getting the ball in the paint. In one of the games on the road, we kind of fumbled the ball on three or four looks early in the post, and that hurt our confidence.”
Cal is on a three-game losing streak entering a game Tuesday night against Cal-Santa Barbara, having fallen to Wisconsin, UNLV and Creighton. “We didn’t know when we scheduled them they were all going to be that good,” Montgomery said. “It probably would have been better if we’d spaced them a little bit.”
The Buffs are 8-2, but have a eye-catchingly poor assist-turnover ratio of 91-146, which even takes Tad Boyle aback.
“It concerns me,” he said. “It is a little bit deceiving, because one of our strengths is getting to the free-throw line (situations that nullify a possible assist). But there have been many games when I’ve looked at the assist-turnover ratio and shook my head. When I look at the players we have, it should be better than it is. Part of it’s individual, but one of the things we’ve really been working on is executing better as a team.”
But one of Boyle’s worries isn’t 6-10 freshman Josh Scott, already a starter and “a low-post presence we haven’t had at Colorado, and quite frankly, one I probably haven’t had in my career.”
Oregon (9-1) has had six different leading scorers in an impressive start, including a win at UNLV, and, says Dana Altman, “Anytime you have a balanced team, it makes it that much more difficult to set your defense against one or two guys.”
The big boost has come from 6-7, 220-pound Iranian transfer Arsalan Kazemi, ex-Rice forward, who has been pounding the boards (11 per game), giving the Ducks a plus 10.3 rebounding margin.
Guard Roberto Nelson is hitting a lusty .517 on threes. Craig Robinson says it’s a matter of having a full year of experience, and “you’re seeing him play with the kind of confidence you need to play at this level. Off the court, he’s doing a tremendous job in his classroom and I always maintain that when you’re doing well in the classroom, you’re going to do well (on the court).”
The Beavers (7-2) lost big man Angus Brandt to a knee injury, and, says Robinson, “We’re trying to find out who can be a leader in his absence.”
Johnny Dawkins didn’t make the call; he was at a shootaround preparing for an important date Tuesday night at North Carolina State. The Cardinal has turned in this oddity: It’s shooting terribly from the field (.398, and .260 on threes), but .751 on free throws.
With three losses in 10 games, Stanford could direly use a win against the 25th-ranked Wolfpack, or its post-season chances will depend ever more heavily on its conference showing.
Mega-freshman Shabazz Muhammad has scored 57 points in his last three games, which Ben Howland says is a matter of shedding all the off-court drama, including a preseason shoulder injury and the long-running NCAA question of his eligibility.
Howland is playing eight guys on a 7-3 team, four of which are freshmen, and he sees his squad as one “that has very little margin for injuries or issues like that. That being said, I like this group.”
Howland had some encouraging words for ex-Kentwood High big man Josh Smith, who battled weight issues before he left the program earlier this fall.
“Josh has some unbelievable talent and potential,” said Howland. “It’s (his future) him deciding that this is really important to him, that this is what he wants to do. He did a great job his freshman year to get in physical condition; that’s the whole key for him.” As for a return to prominence for Smith, Howland said, “I think he will. I’m pulling for him. He’s a good kid, and has a great family. I hope things work out for him in the future.”
The Trojans always play a rugged schedule, and Kevin O’Neill says of a 4-6 start, “We don’t like where we’re at won-lost wise, but I like the fact we’re starting to figure our team out. We’ve just played some people pretty darn good.”
O’Neill clearly isn’t pleased with guard J.T. Terrell, former Wake Forest and Peninsula JC guard, who has averaged 10.7 points, but with only seven assists (to 14 turnovers) and shooting just .317.
“He started the first nine games, but he’s not in the rotation right now,” O’Neill said, adding it revolves around Terrell’s willingness to work to regain minutes.
Two Seattle products are making an impact for the 6-3 Utes. Glen Dean, Roosevelt High and Eastern Washington product, “has really been steady for us,” says Larry Krystkowiak. The 5-10 Dean, says the coach, “hasn’t shot the ball as well as we’d like him to,” and indeed, Dean has hit better from three-point range (.439) than inside the arc (he’s at .426 overall). About a year ago, Dean had surgery to repair a ruptured blood vessel on the brain.
Meanwhile, Aaron Dotson of Rainier Beach, a transfer from LSU, spent last season recovering from a serious knee injury, then had a fractured bone in his foot “about the time practice started,” Krystkowiak said, “and he’s just getting back in the rotation. He’s had a really good week of practice. His better days lie ahead.”
The Huskies (6-4) are allowing .421 shooting and .372 behind the arc, not a statistic to brag about, and their rebounding margin is only plus 1.5. “We need to guard more consistently, and once we do that, a lot of things will take care of themselves,” said Lorenzo Romar. “Look at our rebounding. We’re near the bottom (10th in the league). That’s not a place we’ve been for a long, long time.”
Swingman Will DiIorio, who sprained an ankle two weeks ago, practiced for the first time Tuesday and “looked good,” Ken Bone said.
Meanwhile, Bone, whose team is 7-4, has reinstated to the program ex-Jackson High standout and Oregon transfer Brett Kingma, who was arrested in October on suspicion of having a small amount of marijuana and exhibiting the effects of alcohol.
Bone said the suspension was for about six weeks, “a good amount of time to make sure he understands, and the rest of the guys understand what’s going to be tolerated and what isn’t. His attitude has been great the whole time. He has, I think, learned a lot through this process. Only time will tell, but to gauge it right now, it could end up being the best thing that ever happened to him.”