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December 5, 2008

Pac-10/Big 12 Day One Offers Few Answers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:09 am

As made-for-TV interconference series go, Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series seems pretty contrived in comparison to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which was an original idea when it first began. Still, this year’s edition might answer some questions about a Pac-10 conference that has yet to duplicate last year’s success on the national stage after losing a record seven first-round picks to the NBA.

The first night of the series offered few answers, though it did produce a pair of entertaining matchups. The evening’s two marquee games sent the Los Angeles teams to the Southwest to face a pair of opponents ranked in the top 10. Without having seen either game, they seem to have followed a relatively similar script down to a controversial foul with the visitor playing the role of heavy (USC’s Leonard Washington was ejected for elbowing Blake Griffin below the waist, while Josh Shipp was not penalized for a hard foul on Damion James). Ultimately, both home teams held on for the win.

The other similarity the L.A. teams share is highly-touted freshmen who have yet to live up to the hype. DeMar DeRozan hasn’t played poorly per se, but nor has he been an impact player, scoring 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting against Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Jrue Holiday was a non-factor as a scorer at Texas, finishing with three points on 1-of-6 shooting (he did add six boards and four rebounds). DeRozan and Holiday began their college careers with expectations not far removed from last year’s freshmen stars at their respective schools, O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love. Right now, those hopes look wildly unrealistic.

That said, neither loss was a bad one. USC actually outrebounded a Sooners squad which had been getting nearly 20 boards a night from Griffin. When accounting for the slow pace of the UCLA-Texas game (around 62 possessions apiece), the Bruins actually had some success on offense, thanks in large part to 16 offensive rebounds. UCLA’s vaunted defense was somewhat less stout almost entirely because A.J. Abrams (31 points on 22 shooting possessions) was so hot.

I had the privilege of attending the Pac-10/Big 12 nightcap, which featured a rematch of Oklahoma State and Washington from last year’s series. In 2007, the Cowboys buried the Huskies under an avalanche of three-pointers. This time, UW returned the favor in a solid victory, controlling the game essentially from start to finish.

The Huskies have been wildly up-and-down in the early going, as exemplified by losing by 19 to Kansas in a game that wasn’t that close and then playing Florida to the buzzer on consecutive nights in the CBE Classic. This evening was a chance for Lorenzo Romar‘s squad to show what it is capable of, Jon Brockman doing the dirty work inside while a variety of athletic defenders wreaked havoc on Oklahoma State’s potent offense, which managed just 65 points in about 69 possessions.

James Anderson, who fell into my “The Scouts Like …” section in College Basketball Prospectus 2008-2009 (available now in fine bookstores everywhere! Makes a great holiday gift idea!), didn’t appeal to stats or scouts in this game. He struggled with foul trouble early, never found a rhythm and saw heavy time on the bench in the second half. Improbably, when the Cowboys briefly rallied, it was behind 5-10 freshman guard Keiton Page, who played very well after getting his feet under him. Oklahoma State paired Page at times with 5-11 starting point guard Byron Eaton, a lineup that might only work against teams which feature 5-6 combo guards (namely Isiah Thomas, the UW freshman more productive than either DeRozan or Holiday both on this night and so far this season).

For more Husky observations, I direct you to an audio roundtable I participated in on in which we discussed both UW’s search for a football coach and the basketball team’s start.

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