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March 6, 2009, 11:07 AM ET
Hard Times for the State of Arizona

by John Gasaway

Lately the only way for either Arizona or Arizona State to pick up a win has been for the two teams to play each other. They did so a couple weeks ago in Tempe and the Sun Devils recorded a 70-68 win. Since that time, however, the two teams are a combined 0-6. The trend continued last night, as both teams lost home games to Bay Area conference opponents.

ASU’s 74-64 loss to Stanford was the more surprising of the two results. (It certainly took the Sun Devil athletic department completely by surprise. The game is currently listed as an Arizona State win in the sidebar of their schedule page.) The Cardinal are re-building nicely in their post-Lopez incarnation under first-year coach Johnny Dawkins, but this team has been very accommodating to opposing offenses that wish to score from the paint. Last night, however, ASU chose instead to stay true to form and bombed away from outside, attempting 30 threes and making just eight. Meantime the hitherto meek Stanford offense was racking up 74 points in 62 possessions, thanks in large part to the 20 points scored on 8-of-12 shooting by Landry Fields.

And yet, Arizona’s 83-77 loss to Cal was the more damaging of the two games. I’ve been seeing bubble pieces labeling the Wildcats as safely in. Me, I’m not so sure. Having now lost four straight, Russ Pennell’s team would be well advised to win one for the seniors (I mean the players, not Lute) against Stanford on Saturday in Tucson. A loss would give Arizona an 8-10 conference record. The committee has taken sub-.500 teams before, but the Pac-10 this year may not be of sufficient stature to justify a reach that far down.

Actually in tempo-free terms you do have to reach down a ways to get to the Wildcats, who clearly haven’t received the memo about the league’s sassy new emphasis on defense

UCLA Finally Gets Oregon Teams at Home, Numbers Surge (It’s True!) 
Through games of March 5, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

                                    Opp.
                     Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  UCLA             64.1    1.17   1.04   +0.13
2.  Washington       70.9    1.11   1.01   +0.10
3.  Arizona St.      58.6    1.08   1.01   +0.07
4.  Cal              64.5    1.10   1.05   +0.05
5.  Washington St.   57.0    1.02   1.02    0.00
6.  USC              62.0    1.04   1.04    0.00
7.  Arizona          64.2    1.08   1.08    0.00
8.  Stanford         65.0    1.05   1.09   -0.04
9.  Oregon St.       58.0    0.97   1.09   -0.12
10. Oregon           65.4    0.97   1.16   -0.19 
 

Barring Kentucky-level surprises, UCLA will end the year as the per-possession league champs.  A more interesting question is what records they can shatter for offensive efficiency. Their last game will be at home on senior day against the notably permissive Oregon defense. Watch out. 

BONUS Pac-10 fun fact! Did you know that technically Johnny Dawkins is not the head coach at Stanford? It’s true! He is in fact ”The Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men’s Basketball.” Zounds that’s impressive.

Henceforth I am no longer merely a Basketball Prospectus writer. I am “The Bill and Melinda Gates Executive Vice President for Hoops Analysis.” Which will come as news to Bill and Melinda but what the hey. Gotta order up the new business cards. 

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