Pac-12 coaches teleconference: Men's basketball reaches midpoint of league play
March Madness is coming up fast, but first the Pac-12 teams have to get through the second half of the conference schedule. Then comes the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, where a bid to the Big Dance will be on the line.
Only No. 6 Arizona and No. 13 Utah represent the conference in the latest AP top 25 poll, but there is a strong sense of parity among the league's coaches, who spoke to the media during a conference call Tuesday.
Arizona's Sean Miller
Is the one-and-done rule hurting college basketball?
Scoring is down across the country and it became a hot topic of conversation during Tuesday's teleconference. Arizona's coach has had his fair share of roster turnover during his time in Tucson, adding that it usually takes two to three years for a program to "smooth out" the offensive system.
"When you have so much change between the best players being in our game for a brief period of time, others being pulled in different directions where they leave or transfer more than ever before, we don't have the continuity that we once did," Miler said. "If you did that to college football, for example, just imagine what the game would be like if their best players were a part of their team or program for a year."
Miller has one of the nation's best possible one-and-done players in Stanley Johnson. The athletic 6-foot-7 true freshman leads the No. 6 Wildcats with 14.5 points and seven rebounds per game, and is expected to be a lottery pick in the NBA draft if he declares after this season.
"You talk about scoring being down in college basketball?" Miller said. "Let Stanley Johnson become a sophomore. I bet you he'd score more next year."
Arizona State's Herb Sendek
If you've watched an Arizona State basketball game in the last few years, you might have noticed some outrageous characters gyrating near the Sun Devil student section. Ah, the Curtain of Distraction – ASU's not-so-secret weapon to distract opponents shooting free throws during the second half.
So, does Coach Sendek have enough time to check out the shenanigans from the sideline?
"I'm obviously well aware of it, but during the course of the game it's not something I notice or pay attention to," Sendek said. "Their creativity has fast become legend. A lot of people are really getting a kick out of it. ... It seems like I've done more interviews about the curtain of distraction than any other topic."
The Sun Devils are 11-11 overall and 3-6 in Pac-12 this season, but Sendek's team has been playing better since dropping four straight to start the conference slate. ASU's coach said he wants his team improve its defense, limit turnovers and shoot better from the free-throw line.
Cal's Cuonzo Martin
Martin has had nine games in his first season as Cal's coach to test out the Pac-12 competition. When looking back to his tenure as Tennessee's coach in the SEC, Martin said there is a difference in the style of play.
"The only difference, in my opinion, is that the Pac-12 is more up and down. There's more of a pace to it and flow to the offense, as opposed to the SEC where it's a physical grind every possession, every time down."
Decreased attendance at college basketball games was also a frequent topic of discussion during the call, with many coaches pointing to the economy and increased TV exposure as reasons behind the drop. As far as fans on the West Coast, Martin said he sees why fans could get distracted.
"Here we are in the Bay right now, it's probably 72 degrees outside with sunshine," Martin said. "You can't beat that. I'm in shorts and a T-shirt."
Colorado's Tad Boyle
The Buffs haven't been the same without their man in the middle, forward Josh Scott, who has missed eight of nine conference matchups with a back issue. Scott played 28 minutes against Utah on Jan. 7, but Boyle said the junior wasn't himself. The No. 13 Runnin' Utes are up next again for the Buffs on Saturday (7 p.m. PT/8 MT on Pac-12 Networks), and Boyle is hopeful Scott can return.
"There's a chance," Boyle said. "He's starting to work out now and we'll kind of see how the back responds as he kind of gets back into workout mode and practice mode. I'm encouraged. But I don't know if he'll be ready Saturday or not. It's too early to say for that and we're taking it day by day."
Wesley Gordon has been a major rebounding force since Scott's gone down, earning Boyle's praise. Juron Hopkins also got props from his coach, as the guard has carved out a bigger role for himself in his sophomore season.
"He's been coming on as of late, there's no question about it," Boyle said. "He's a guy that's extremely talented, and a guy that quite frankly we need on the perimeter defensively."
Oregon's Dana Altman
Which Pac-12 arena brings the most noise?
Altman was one of a few coaches posed the question during the call, and like many of his counterparts, pointed to Arizona and Utah as the hardest places to play on the road. It also doesn't help that the Wildcats and Runnin' Utes are the two ranked teams in the conference. The Ducks suffered a 90-56 defeat last week at McKale Center in Tucson, so Altman has some recent experience.
"The team creates the atmosphere," Altman said. "Right now, Arizona is a tough, tough place to play. Sean [Miller] has done a wonderful job. Anytime you have a good coach, good players and great players, it really sets the tone. We were just there so it's fresh in my mind."
As far as his own team goes, freshman Dillon Brooks (12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has been a nice addition to this young program.
"He's scored around the basket, he's hit some jumpers and put the ball on the floor, and made some plays for his teammates," Altman said. "I think, offensively, he's done a very good job. Defensively, it's coming along."
Oregon State's Wayne Tinkle
The Beavers have gone 12-0 at Gill Coliseum this year, including 4-0 in Pac-12 play with a win over Arizona. Tinkle has instilled a defensive mindset into his team during his first year as Oregon State's coach, and the unit will be tested on Thursday (7 p.m. PT/8 MT on Pac-12 Networks) with a matchup against DaVonté Lacy and Washington State.
Tinkle's leading man has been do-it-all transfer guard Gary Payton II, whose famous father has also been spotted in Corvallis for games.
"He's come to a lot of our games and spends a lot of time with our guys," Tinkle said of the elder Payton. "He's excited for what this group has done to this point and trying to turn things around. ... Not only Gary, but guys like Steve Johnson and Charlie Sitton, on and on. Guys are now coming back and helping teach the current players about the tradition of Oregon State."
Stanford's Johnny Dawkins
Stanford senior Chasson Randle has been going off lately for the Cardinal, stringing together six straight games of at least 20 points, including a 33-point eruption in Saturday's 89-88 loss to Washington State. Dawkins enjoys a strong senior nucleus that includes Randle, big man Stefan Nastic and guard Anthony Brown.
Youngblood Marcus Allen has asserted himself on the floor since conference play began, becoming a solid role player in his sophomore year. Allen dropped a career-high 12 points against Washington last week on 6-of-8 shooting while grabbing three rebounds and two steals in 24 minutes.
"He's one of the hardest workers," Dawkins said, "always looking to improve and that's what you love about him. He has an amazing commitment to the game. For us, based on having three seniors and having some stability in our lineup, we need someone in there that's going to give consistent effort and someone who's going to have a defensive mindset, and he's brought that."
UCLA's Steve Alford
It's been the Norman Powell show lately for the Bruins, as the senior picked up his second Pac-12 Player of the Week award on Monday. Powell led the way in the upset of Utah, averaging 22.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.5 assists during the week along with some nasty dunks.
"I think you're seeing him mature as the season goes along here," Alford said. "We had a really tough stretch in December and for the leader and one of the captains of our team – the only senior – there's a lot of pressure put on him. I think he's matured very nicely throughout the season."
Alford said Powell struggled earlier this year when he was settling for jump shots, but is happy that Powell has been showing off his aggressive playing style lately.
"He's always, in my mind, been one of the best drivers in our league," Alford said. "His drive is now setting up his jump shot."
USC's Andy Enfield
The Trojans have had a rough stretch in conference play, losing six straight entering Thursday's matchup at Cal. USC only has one win in nine Pac-12 games this year, but it came on Jan. 7 against the Golden Bears and Enfield remains upbeat about his team's chances for a season sweep.
"We've been very proud of our team's improvement," Enfield said. "The players are working so hard, they're enthusiastic and we love coaching this team. We became a much better team from the beginning of the season to the midway point."
According to Enfield, USC has the youngest team in any of the five power conferences, so growing pains were to be expected.
Utah's Larry Krystkowiak
It's a good thing that the Runnin' Utes have a few days off until Saturday's showdown with Colorado (7 p.m PT/8 MT on Pac-12 Networks) since the team has been battling a bug the past week.
"It was pretty rough as far as illnesses go," Krystkowiak said. "It typically runs its course and hopefully we've seen the worst of it."
The team dropped to No. 13 in the latest AP poll after losing to UCLA last week, but still have to be considered among the league's elite alongside Arizona. Up next, they have to try to contain Colorado guard Askia Booker, who dropped 43 points against USC last week.
"It's obvious that [Booker] would be mentioned quite often when trying out a way to stop them," Krystkowiak said.
Washington's Lorenzo Romar
The Huskies have had a week to regroup since the dismissal of center and NCAA-leading shot blocker Robert Upshaw. The early results haven't been good on the court, as Washington was swept by the Bay Area schools at home. Washington forward Jernard Jarreau has also been out since Jan. 10 with a knee injury, leaving the Huskies short-handed down low.
"With those two guys you have your No. 1 and No. 2 best rebounders, No. 1 and No. 2 best defenders," Romar said. "So, yeah, we have to tweak things and we have to spread things out a little more on offense. ... I definitely think we have a better grip on what we're trying to do as a team."
Washington State's Ernie Kent
For the first time since taking over as Washington State's head coach, Ernie Kent will travel to Eugene with his team. It will be something of a homecoming for Kent, who coached the Ducks from 1997-2010. The game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks on Sunday at 4 p.m. PT/5 MT.
"It will be a different set of emotions," Kent said of Sunday's contest. "But once the game gets going, it becomes just another game. ... It's a business trip for us."
But first, the Cougars will try to become the first road team to take a win at Gill Coliseum this year, and you can see the Thursday night matchup with Oregon State at 7 p.m. PT/8 MT on Pac-12 Networks.