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Pac-12 Confidential

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

January 9, 2014 at 2:51 PM

The seven days ahead in college hoops, and notes, notes, notes

As indicated a few days ago, we’re going to have a weekly look on Thursdays during college-basketball season with (most of the time, anyway), a dual purpose: We’ll preview the next seven days’ best games (with an eye to the TV viewer), and we’ll also include some national notes.

So . . . let’s tip it off:

Thursday night, the West Coast Conference schedule begins its third weekend (already), and you’d have to say the revised 10-team arrangement – to accommodate Pacific’s inclusion — is, well, novel.

Gonzaga opened with four straight home games, with students on holiday break. It’s one-upped by Portland, which, when it hosts the Zags tonight, will be playing a fifth straight conference home game to open the 2014 schedule.

I’ve never heard of that in any league, anywhere.

I checked in with Jeff Tourial, the WCC public-relations director, this week for an explanation. Not surprisingly, it has a lot to do with TV.

As Tourial explains it, the league works in concert with ESPN for its preferences and then, using parameters like no back-to-back games against a given opponent, feeds it to a Denver-based outfit that does computer scheduling for many sports teams.

If, say, ESPN says it would like St. Mary’s at Gonzaga, that means the travel partners of the two teams, Pacific and Portland, are also paired in that scheduling in any particular weekend.

“We were fairly restricted in our ability to move other games around,” Tourial said. “What happens, basically, with TV, we lose some of the flexibility.”

Is TV dictating? “ESPN does not tell us to play a game on a (certain) date, but they may say, ‘This is rivalry week,’ ’’ says Tourial, and the league will explore whether it can be accommodated.

As for the issue of students not having returned from the holiday break, I polled the schools of the WCC, and several returned to classes early this week, several more don’t come back until early next week. In either case, that’s at least two weekends of league play in the books before the earliest-returning students are back.

Obviously, the league’s perceived need for TV exposure rules a lot of this. The conference games start in December – and Tourial says down the road, the first round will be before Christmas – because the WCC covets the clear window in early March for its conference-tournament semifinal and final games on ESPN, before the bigger leagues dominate the screen.

If you’re going to value that exposure, and also be attuned to ESPN’s desires in the regular season, you’re vulnerable to some pretty bizarre scheduling. If I’m a student at Portland, and I prize the home games, I’m not very happy to know that five of the nine in league are done before I’m back on campus. Even four of nine at Gonzaga — where they tout the fact enrollment has boomed partly because of basketball — is an affront.

Ironically, for Gonzaga, the four early home games may have helped. The Zags needed the local fans, and the availability of a treatment room, as they limped through a siege of injuries and illness.

And What’s More . . .

* It’s still jarring when you see SMU play Connecticut, and it’s a conference game. Can’t imagine UConn is very happy left behind from realignment wars to be a part of the American Athletic Conference.

* The Big 12 is touting itself as perhaps the toughest conference this year, as No. 1 in the RPI index. Its non-league record is the best (102-26, .797) while the Pac-12’s is No. 2 at 119-32 and .788.

* Wichita State became the first team in the Missouri Valley to get to 15-0 (now 16-0) since Tulsa did it 30 years ago (1983-84).

* When Northern Arizona won at Montana last week (shooting .733 in the second half to get it done), it broke UM’s 26-game conference home-court win streak, a league record.

* Also in the Big Sky, Weber State coach Randy Rahe has amassed a 56-4 home record in league games.

* In losing to unbeaten Iowa State this week, Baylor was outshot for the first time this season.

* Southern Illinois was having a struggling season already when it hit weather problems returning by bus from a 250-mile trip Sunday to Illinois State. Its bus driver pulled off Interstate 57 in a blinding snowstorm and got stuck. Then the highway was closed, and finally late that night, the restarted bus got the team to a church in Tuscola, Ill., where it slept overnight.

* One reason Ohio State is riding high at No. 3 nationally: It defends the three-point arc to the tune of a trifling .243, best in the country.

* Georgia coach Mark Fox got a big win Wednesday night at Missouri. Fox, former Washington assistant in his fifth year in Athens, got a five-year, $8.5-million deal after he guided the Bulldogs to the 2011 NCAA tournament (losing to Washington in their first game), but Uga (7-6) has had two losing seasons since then.

* Grant Gibbs, the Gonzaga transfer and sixth-year player at Creighton, is out 4-6 weeks with a dislocated kneecap.

Thursday

Memphis at Louisville, 4 p.m., ESPN. Welcome to the new American Athletic Conference.

Arizona at UCLA, 6 p.m., ESPN. ‘Cats and their No. 1 ranking should get a test.

Gonzaga at Portland, 8 p.m., ESPNU. Beleaguered Zags can use a single game this week.

Saturday

North Carolina at Syracuse, 9 a.m., ESPN. The new world of ACC hoops. Carolina isn’t ranked, but ‘Cuse is No. 2.

Kansas State at Kansas, 11 a.m., ESPN. The two have sort of met in the middle, Kansas a little disappointing, KSU a little surprising.

Cal at Oregon State, 5 p.m., ESPNU. Remember when Saturday was a big day in the Pac-12? This is the only game, with five on Sunday.

Sunday

Iowa at Ohio State, 10:30 a.m., CBS. Hawkeyes’ coach Fran McCaffrey returns from one-game suspension for a recent outburst.

Colorado at Washington, noon, Fox Sports 1. Fifteenth-ranked Buffs had a major scare Wednesday night against WSU.

Stanford at Oregon, 2 p.m., Fox Sports 1. Ducks, now No. 17, a tough matchup for inconsistent Cardinal.

Arizona at USC, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks. Letdown always a possibility for Wildcats, but they look too good for it to matter.

Arizona State at UCLA, 7 p.m., ESPNU. Sun Devils behind the 8-ball after surprise loss to UW.

Monday

Virginia at Duke, 4 p.m., ESPN. Check up on Tony Bennett’s team (11-4, 2-0) against the Blue Devils, uncharacteristically out of the Top Ten at No. 16.

Kansas at Iowa State, 6 p.m., ESPN. Cyclones humming along undefeated, so something of a role reversal here.

Tuesday

Wisconsin at Indiana, 4 p.m., ESPN. Bo Ryan’s undefeated Badgers could get an argument here.

Kentucky at Arkansas, 6 p.m., ESPN. Kentucky’s young (and up-and-down) guns test the SEC’s highest-scoring outfit.

Wednesday

N0tre Dame at Maryland, 4 p.m., ESPN2. Ships passing in the night: Notre Dame into the ACC, Terps about to be out of it.

Washington State at Stanford, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks. Both teams could be desperate by the time this one comes around.

Washington at Cal, 8 p.m., ESPNU. Huskies handed Bears an unseemly loss last year in Berkeley.

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