Archive for: March 2013

Ducks Pull into 1st in Pac-12 After Series Losses for Beavers and Bruins

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With Easter Sunday upon us, teams adjusted the traditional Friday-Sunday schedule to play Thursday-Saturday.

Big changes occurred as the top two teams in the league lost twice and the third-place Oregon Ducks swept their opponent at home.

The Oregon State Beavers (22-4, 5-1 Pac-12) traveled to San Diego to take on the Toreros (18-10, 4-2 WCC) but the reception for the No. 2 Oregon State team was less than sunny. Sloppy play on Thursday night led to a season-high five errors and five of the seven Torero runs were unerarned.

Oregon State clobbered San Diego on Saturday, 14-5, but the Toreros returned the favor on Sunday scoring six runs in the third and a three-run home run by Dillon Hauptin the fourth. San Diego went on to win 13-3 and is in the mix for the West Coast Conference title with Gonzaga, Portland and Pepperdine.

Arizona State's Ryan Kellogg

Arizona State’s Ryan Kellogg

The road wasn’t kind to the No. 6 UCLA Bruins (18-6, 6-3 Pac-12) either when they visited the Sun Devils of Arizona State. The Sun Devils bested the Bruins behind solid performances by Trevor Williams and freshman sensation Ryan Kellogg. Williams improved his record to 4-2, allowing only one run in seven and two-thirds innings on Thursday.

Kellogg added another win to his record, winning his sixth game in seven appearances. He is 6-0 on the season and carries a team-leading 1.37 ERA.

Saturday’s game was a hitters’ paradise at Packard Stadium. Sun Devils pitcher Adam McCreery started the game but was pulled before recording his first out. McCreery walked two batters, hit another and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch.

Mark Lambson pitched for two innings, giving up four runs before he was replaced by Billy Young, who went three innings. Five more Sun Devil pitchers contributed to the game, but Eric Melbostad took the loss although Ryan Burr gave up the game-winning two-RBI single in the 10th to secure the 12-10 victory for the Bruins.

Arizona State improved to 15-8-1 and 4-5 in Pac-12 play and will most likely return to all four polls, they are currently only ranked at No. 26 on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Poll.

The Oregon Ducks (22-6, 8-1 Pac-12) did what they needed to do and swept the visiting Washington Huskies. The Huskies gave the Ducks a scare on Thursday night taking the game into extra innings, but Oregon’s all-everything Ryon Healy knocked in a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat the Huskies 5-3.

The Huskies were shut out the next two games and Oregon pitchers surrendered only seven hits and freshman Cole Irvin pitched the first complete game of the season for the Ducks with 11 strikeouts to one walk. Ryon Healy once again proved he was the Ducks’ go-to guy going 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored.

Stanford won its series at Washington State and improved to 13-9 and 3-3 in conference. The Cougars saved face by defeating the Cardinal on Saturday 8-5 and improved to 16-10 and 3-3 in Pac-12 play.

Oregon's Cole Irvin

Oregon’s Cole Irvin

The Cal Bears lost two of three to the USC Trojans at home to fall to 16-12 and 5-4 in conference while the Arizona Wildcats earned a sweep of the Utah Utes in Tucson to improve to 18-11 and 3-6 in the conference.

The upcoming week brings several non-conference games for the Pac-12, including Arizona State visiting Wichita State for two games mid-week. Tuesday also has Portland visiting Oregon State, UC Irvine at USC, Gonzaga at Washington State, Washington at Seattle and UCLA hosting the No. 7 Cal State Fullerton Titans.

The weekend brings great conference matchups when Oregon State travels to UCLA and Oregon travels to Arizona State. Also on the slate are Cal at Arizona, Stanford at USC and Washington State at Utah.

With so many great conference games, I would not be surprised to see another shake-up at the top.

News and Notes from Week Two of ASU Spring Practice

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The second week of spring football practice has come to a close, and the Arizona State Sun Devil football team is preparing for a closed-session scrimmage on Saturday morning.

The reasoning behind closing the next two Saturday’s scrimmages to the public and media is so that recruits can be on the field. Opening Saturday was open to the public and media, as will the scrimmage on April 13. However, recruits will have to be in the stands, not on the field.

 

Sun Devil Football Fan Fest

The Annual Maroon and Gold Spring Game will be the highlight of the 2013 Sun Devil Football Fan Fest. The event will be a full day of activities for fans of all ages. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will begin on the southern end of Sun Devil Stadium and parking lots with a Kids Zone and Great Sun Devil Tailgate Competition.

Moving inside the stadium at 11 a.m., the 2013 Sun Devil Football team will be introduced and the scrimmage will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. There will be plenty of opportunities for fans to get photos with the Rose Bowl Trophy, Territorial Cup and Victory Bell. Several current players and alumni will be on hand signing autographs.

The event commences with the Junior Sun Devil Skills Challenge where children will be allowed to run, pass and kick on the field.

 

Position Battles

Will Mike Bercovici take over the No. 2 spot?

Will Mike Bercovici take over the No. 2 spot?

Some interesting battles are taking place in spring practice so far in 2013, and the most contested is that of backup quarterback. Two redshirt sophomores are going at it and have equally split reps with the second team in the past week.

Mike Bercovici was Brock Osweiler’s backup in the 2011 season as a true freshman, but with the early departure of Osweiler and a coaching change, Bercovici lost the starting position to Taylor Kelly.

He also lost the backup job to Michael Eubank.

Bercovici utilized his redshirt year in 2012 and is back and better than he has ever been since joining the team. This is going to be a difficult battle as Eubank played in every game last year and scored eight touchdowns, four passing and four rushing. Eubank saw decreasing minutes as the season progressed and might lose out on the backup position if he’s not careful.

“[Bercovici] has made some great throws,” coach Todd Graham said. “He’s had a great spring…Berc’s a guy that you better not rest your laurels on.”

Redshirt junior Deantre Lewis has done it all for the Sun Devils while not really doing much. As a true freshman in 2010, he played in 11 games and started two. He found the end zone six times, four rushing and two receiving. The year also saw his career-long rushing touchdown of 53 yards and receiving touchdown of 70 yards.

Lewis suffered a gunshot wound in February 2011 in Riverside, Calif. and sat out the 2011 season. When Lewis returned to the team in 2012, he experienced a crowded backfield with two new additions in Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. He switched to defensive back and earned playing time in the first seven games.

Deantre Lewis is back in the Sun Devil backfield

Deantre Lewis is back in the Sun Devil backfield

When Foster left the game against Navy, Lewis got his chance to get back in the running game with seven attempts for 27 yards. The graduation of running back Cameron Marshall has allowed Lewis to convert back to running back.

“He’s steadily getting better each week,” coach Todd Graham said. “I think he’s healthy now. I think he’s had a good solid spring, so what we’re looking for is consistency.”

 

The kicking game that has been in a flux of late just added another member. The roller coaster ride of place kickers with Alex Garoutte and Jon Mora may be over with the signing of Zane Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, a 6’1″ kicker from Deer Park, Texas, will join the team in the fall and compete with Garoutte and Mora for the starting position. Gonzalez enjoyed a perfect senior season at Deer Park High School, outside of Houston, where he nailed 10-of-10 field goals and all extra point attempts. His junior year saw him connect on a career-long 48-yard field goal and 80 of his career 112 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

This is great news for the struggling kicking game. We will just see if he can make the transition to Division I football.

The 2013 football season brings several challenges including three teams that were in BCS Bowl games and five more against teams that played in the postseason. If the Devils can win the Pac-12 south and head to the Pac-12 Championship Game, this can be the beginning of a football dynasty in the desert.

Power Ranking the Top 10 Conferences in College Baseball

Opening Ceremony - 2011 College World Series  June 17, 2011

 

Entering the second month of play and the second week of conference play for most conferences, it is time to take a good look at college baseball and see how they stack up.

With four major polls ranking the schools, the “Big Six” conferences are all included, but what is more surprising is the four mid-major conferences that are also doing incredibly well.

The main poll that I will be using is from the National College Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA), but some teams are separately ranked by Baseball America (BA), Collegiate Baseball (CB) or the USA Today Coaches Poll.

In looking at past College World Series champions, the clear winner is the Pac-12 Conference with 27 championships in the 65-year history, but only four in the past 20 years.

The University of Texas leads the way with 34 appearances but the University of Southern California is hands-down the winningest team in college baseball history with 12 championships, including a five-year streak and seven out of 11 from 1963-1974.

Enough of the past, let’s check out the present and the conferences accordingly.

Southeastern Conference

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Can the Bayou Bengals get back to Omaha?

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the top 30 of the NCBWA poll for a composite conference ranking of 9.0. They have six teams ranked in all four polls, one team in two polls and another team in the top 25 of the Baseball America poll. Surprisingly absent from the list is the Florida Gators, who are suffering through an 11-15 season.

Three teams have represented the SEC the past two years in the College World Series and there was an all-SEC final in 2011 when South Carolina swept Florida in two straight games.

Here is the breakdown of the SEC in the rankings:

Louisiana State Tigers (23-2, 5-1 SEC)

Vanderbilt Commodores (22-4, 5-1 SEC)

Kentucky Wildcats (18-5, 4-2 SEC)

Arkansas Razorbacks (18-7, 4-2 SEC)

Ole Miss Rebels (21-4, 3-3 SEC)

South Carolina Gamecocks (19-6, 2-4 SEC)

Texas A&M Aggies (18-8, 5-1 SEC)

Mississippi State Bulldogs (22-6, 2-4 SEC)

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

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Can the Tar Heels finally win it all?

The ACC has five teams in NCBWA top 30 for a conference composite ranking of 11.4. They have the consensus No. 1 team and four teams ranked in all four polls with one team in two polls and another in one.

North Carolina and Florida State have been constants in Omaha with 30 appearances between the two teams. North Carolina has gone five of the past seven years and Florida State three of the last five. They are both also constants as an also-ran. UNC has lost twice and FSU three times in the championship game and are both still seeking their first title.

Miami is finally back on track and is looking to return to Omaha for the first time in five years. They have 23 appearances and four national championships. The ‘Canes still hold hold the record of six consecutive trips to the CWS from 1994-1999 and nine trips in 11 years, bringing home two championships in that time frame.

Here’s how the teams in the ACC rank:

North Carolina Tar Heels (23-1, 7-1 ACC)

Florida State Seminoles (23-2, 7-2 ACC)

Virginia Cavaliers (23-2, 7-2 ACC)

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (19-5, 6-3 ACC)

North Carolina State Wolfpack (17-9, 3-6 ACC)

Miami Hurricanes (19-9, 4-5 ACC)

 

Pacific-12 Conference

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The Beavers are chipping away at the Pac-12 Title

The Pac-12 Conference had seven teams in all four polls prior to starting conference play, but blowout wins have knocked a couple teams out of the polls, including the defending national champion Arizona Wildcats.

There are three teams in the top 10 in all four polls with one team in two polls and another clinging on to one poll. Their NCBWA conference composite rank is 13.2.

In what seemed to be the Pac-12 against everybody else in the early years, teams that are now part of the Pac-12 won 16 times in a 21-year stretch from 1961-1981.

Since then, the Pac has allowed others to join in on the fun. The current national champion hails from the Pac-12, but it is only the sixth time in the past 32 years.

Three of the top four teams in CWS Final games are from the Pac-12 and four of the top six teams in CWS total games.

  • USC: 12-2 Finals, 74 total games
  • Arizona State: 5-5 Finals, 61 total games
  • Arizona 4-3 Finals, 38 total games
  • Stanford 2-3 finals, 40 total games

Here are the standings for the Pacific-12 Conference:

Oregon State Beavers (21-3, 5-1 Pac-12)

UCLA Bruins (17-5, 5-2 Pac-12)

Oregon Ducks (20-6, 6-1 Pac-12)

Stanford Cardinal (12-8, 2-2 Pac-12)

Arizona State Sun Devils (14-7-1, 3-4 Pac-12)

 

Big West Conference

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Are the Titans the best team in the West?

 

The Big West Conference is doing incredible things this year. The perennial champion Cal State Fullerton Titans are paving the way for others in the conference to make a name on the big stage. The Titans have made five CWS appearances in the past 10 years, including a national championship in 2004.

There are two teams form the Big West in all four polls and one in three polls. Their NCBWA conference composite rank is 17.66. The Big West begins conference play this weekend.

Here’s how they rank:

 

Cal State Fullerton Titans (21-4, 9-3 Home)

Cal Poly Mustangs (17-6, 9-3 Home)

UC Irvine Anteaters (16-5, 13-3 Home)

 

Big East Conference

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Can Louisville avenge its 2007 showing?

The Big East Conference isn’t known for its baseball prowess, but this year could be the year that changes public perception on the matter. Connecticut leads the league in CWS appearances with five but hasn’t made the trek to Omaha in over 30 years. Seton Hall went four times, including three times in the ’70s. Notre Dame has made two appearances, with 45 years in between appearances.

Louisville got into the act with their first appearance in 2007 but lost two straight. The Cardinals are the most recent Big East team to make the trip. There are two teams in all four polls and their NCBWA Conference Composite rank is 17.0. They also have a team that squeaked into the Collegiate Baseball poll.

 

Louisville Cardinals (19-5, 1-2 Big East)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (15-6, 2-1 Big East)

Pittsburgh Panthers (16-6, 3-0 Big East)

 

Conference USA

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Rice is no longer the best team in Houston

Conference USA has two teams that show up in all four polls and ranks as the No. 6 conference with a NCBWA conference composite rank of 21.0.

Only nine of the 12 teams in Conference USA field baseball squads and they all look up to one team—the Rice Owls. Baseball rules at Rice and with good reason.

The small school in Houston has made seven College World Series appearances including four times in the past decade with a national championship in 2003.

 

Houston Cougars (21-5, 3-0 C-USA)

Rice Owls (18-9, 2-1 C-USA)

 

The Rest

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With Texas struggling, all eyes are on Oklahoma

There are two remaining teams that show up in all four polls coming out of two separate conferences. The Big XII and Big Ten finally show up and prove that that middle America is no longer dominated by baseball.

The University of Texas, a mainstay of the college baseball landscape with seven appearances in the past 13 years and two championships is struggling. Oklahoma State has 19 total appearances but haven’t seen Omaha since before Y2K.

The Big Ten has all but forgotten about baseball as Michigan was the last team to represent the conference—in 1984. Nebraska had a good stretch of three appearances in five years, but they were in the Big XII at the time.

No. 7—Big XII

Oklahoma Sooners (23-4, 3-0 Big XII)

Oklahoma State Cowboys (19-5, 1-1 Big XII)

 

No. 8—Big Ten

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Can Indiana make the Big Ten proud?

 

Indiana Hoosiers (19-3, 3-0 Big Ten)

 

 

 

No. 9—Sun Belt

South Alabama (22-4, 5-1 Sun Belt)

 

No. 10—Atlantic Sun

Florida Gulf Coast (16-5, 2-1 A-Sun)

Pac-12 Baseball Week 7 Power Rankings

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After two weeks of conference play, the Pac-12 is separating the wheat from the chaff.

Three teams are tied for first place in conference and they are all ranked in the top 12 of the four national polls.

The past week saw a true freshman pitch a no-hitter for the first time in conference play since 1994. Ryan Kellogg from Whitby, Ontario hurled the first no-hitter in over 20 years and the ninth in Arizona State history to blank the Oregon State Beavers and garner numerous accolades including Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week, NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week and Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week.

Let’s delve a little deeper and check out each team in the Pac-12 and where it ranks.

 

Oregon State Beavers

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The Oregon State Beavers took care of business over the weekend winning the series over the visiting Arizona State Sun Devils. Although they were no-hit on Saturday, senior left-hander Matt Boyd pitched a one-hit, complete-game shutout on Friday and the Beavers escaped a late-inning rally by the Devils to win 4-3.

The Beavers pitching has been incredible, boasting a NCAA-low team ERA of 1.64 and hold opponents to a meager .205 batting average.

Next up for Oregon State is a break from conference play as it travels to San Diego to take on the Toreros this weekend and back to Oregon for a game at the University of Portland.

 

UCLA Bruins

 

The Bruins dropped the series opener at home to Cal but went on to dismantle the Bears 18-5 over the next two games. They swept Washington at home the week prior on two shutouts and a marathon 15-inning game on Saturday.

The pitching lineup of David Berg, Grant Watson, Cody Poteet and Nick Vander Tuig has been lights-out and all four pitchers rank in the top 10 in the league for lowest opponent batting average. Berg (0.76) and Watson (1.13) hold the second- and third-lowest ERA in the Pac-12 and the Bruins pitchers have allowed the fewest runs scored in the conference with 53.

Next up for UCLA is a three-game set at Arizona State Thursday-Saturday and then back home to face the 21-3 Cal State Fullerton Titans on Tuesday.

 

Oregon Ducks

 

The Oregon Ducks had a tough time in nonconference play dropping series to Cal State Fullerton and Vanderbilt. The won the series finale against the Commodores which began a five-game win streak before dropping a game at USC. They have since swept the reigning national champion Arizona Wildcats, holding the ‘Cats to just one run in the first two games and holding them off 7-6 in the series finale.

Oregon is tops in the league in fielding percentage at .988 and has committed the fewest errors with 11. Junior first baseman Ryon Healey leads the league in doubles with 11 and does equally well on defense leading in putouts with 235.

Closer Jimmie Sherley’s seven saves leads the Pac-12 and ranks No. 4 in the country.

The Ducks host the Washington Huskies this weekend for a three-game set and travel to Tempe next weekend to take on the Sun Devils.

 

Stanford Cardinal

 

The Cardinal are in a funk right now.

They have lost three straight games to beatable teams in UC Davis and the University of Utah. The week prior saw them being swept by UNLV at home, and they have now lost six of their past seven games. A road trip could be just the thing to bust them out of their slump.

The bright spot on the Cardinal roster is senior right-hander Mark Appel who leads the Pac-12 with 54 strikeouts and ranks No. 5 in the nation. The Cardinal also lead the league in fewest hits allowed with 133.

Seven of the next eight games for the Cardinal will be played away from the Sunken Diamond with the lone home game against rival California on April 1.

 

Arizona State Sun Devils

 

The Sun Devils have had their ups and downs this season already. They defeated then-No. 2 Arkansas twice in the Coca-Cola Classic and freshman sensation pitcher Ryan Kellogg pitched a no-hitter against the No. 3 Oregon State Beavers.

They have also dropped two straight series to the aforementioned Beavers and the Washington State Cougars. The Sun Devils ace right-handed pitcher, Trevor Williams has won Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honors with two complete games and a shutout, but his record stands at 3-2.

The Devils are second in the Pac-12 with 12 home runs and have only surrendered a league-leading one. Home runs aren’t all they hit; they also lead the league in hit batters with 28.

Kellogg leads the league in ERA (0.71), lowest opposing batting average (.129) and wins with five. His win total is tied for ninth-best in the nation while his ERA comes in at 10th.

Arizona State welcomes the UCLA Bruins for a Thursday-Saturday set then travels for a two-game set at Wichita State.

 

Washington State Cougars

 

Well, look at that, the Cougars aren’t occupying the cellar for once. The Cougars are on a tear right now winning six of their past eight games, including a four-game sweep of Brown in which they outscored the Bulldogs, 45-4. They took two of three on the road at Arizona State after a disappointing road trip to UT San Antonio where they dropped three of four.

The Cougars’ bats are on fire through 23 games with a league-leading batting average of .335 that also ranks No. 2 in the country. Redshirt freshman third baseman Nick Tanielu leads the way with an incredible .419 average that ranks No. 25 in the nation.

Washington State also tops the league in slugging percentage (.479), on-base percentage (.406), hits (271), doubles (54), home runs (17) and total bases (390).

Next up for Washington State is a three-game set welcoming Stanford and a single game against neighboring Gonzaga, who recently bested the Cougars, 10-8.

 

California Golden Bears

 

The Cal Bears had a nice win streak going on before Saturday. They had won eight straight and were winners of nine of their last 10 games before dropping two straight to UCLA. They are 7-0 at home and will play their first-ever night game this weekend at Evans Field.

The Bears host the USC Trojans for a Thursday-Saturday set and then travel across town to play rival Stanford Cardinal for a single game and then off to Tucson to face the Arizona Wildcats for three.

 

Arizona Wildcats

 

What has happened to the defending national champion Wildcats? They hosted the Oregon schools the past two weekends and were unable to notch a single victory. The Wildcats still lead the league in runs scored (178), RBI (161), triples (19), stolen bases (58) and walks (113).

First baseman Brandon Dixon is No. 2 in the nation with 35 runs scored, while second baseman Trent Gilbert is tied for most triples in the nation with five.

Arizona hosts Utah and California in the the upcoming weeks, both being three-game sets.

 

The Rest of the Pac

 

Utah Utes (12-10, 2-4 Pac-12)

The Utes surprised Stanford by taking two games and winning only their second Pac-12 series. Third baseman Dallas Carroll was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for his stellar play against Stanford. They travel to Arizona to take on the Wildcats this weekend.

 

Opening Ceremony - 2011 College World Series  June 17, 2011USC Trojans (9-15, 2-4 Pac-12)

The Trojans lost two of three to Washington last weekend and have only won twice in their past 11 contests. They did, however, beat Oregon 5-3 for a quality win. Next up for USC is a three-game set at Cal then back home to host UC Irvine for a game and Stanford for three.

 

Washington Huskies (6-16, 2-4 Pac-12)

The Huskies took two of three from USC last weekend but had only one game in their past 10 prior to that. Washington is going on an extended road trip for the next 11 games away from Husky Ballpark. They travel to Eugene to take on the Ducks this weekend, then visit Seattle University for a single game and Pepperdine for a three-game series.

Everything You Need to Know About Arizona’s Sweet 16 Showdown with Ohio State

Johnson Harv

 

Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller and Ohio State’s head coach Thad Matta go back nearly 20 years.

The year was 1994, and the two shared an office as assistants at Miami University of Ohio in Oxford, Ohio. Their head coach? Current Arizona State coach, Herb Sendek.

The coincidences don’t end there. The two were also on the staff that upset the No. 5 Arizona Wildcats led by Lute Olson in the 1995 NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed in Dayton, Ohio.

They both departed Oxford after that season searching for greener pastures, and when Matta was named the head coach at Xavier, the first call he made was to Sean Miller, who was at North Carolina State with Herb Sendek.

Miller was hired on as an associate head coach at Xavier and coached with Matta until 2004, when Matta left for Ohio State. Miller, then coached the Musketeers for five more years with four NCAA tournament appearances, three Atlantic-10 regular season championships and one Atlantic-10 conference tournament championship.

Miller has only the best things to say about Matta:

[Matta is] certainly my best friend in coaching and a guy that means a lot to me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. He’s one of the best, if not the best, right now coaching. I think his team really reflects that.

He goes on to say:

Thad [Matta] is just a very unique person. He has that quality where you want to follow him. I think that’s one of the many reasons why he’s such a great coach—the players on his team love to play for him. He has a way of making things fun. He’s also one of the most competitive people that I’ve ever met.

johnson parromThe two meet up again in the Sweet 16 this week. Here are all the details that you need to know.

  • Region: West
  • Date: Thursday, March 28
  • Time: 4:47 p.m. PT
  • Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Television: TBS
  • Radio: KCUB 1290-AM The Source in metro Tucson / WBNSFM 97.1, AM-1460 in metro Columbus

 

Playing at a Different Level

The Arizona Wildcats cruised in their first two games against No. 11 seed Belmont and No. 14 seed Harvard, winning by an average of 20 points per game. The ‘Cats hardly broke a sweat in Salt Lake City, while Ohio State needed last-second heroics from Aaron Craft to seal the victory over Iowa State in Dayton.

The team, including Grant Jerrett, is fresh, healthy and ready to win this game on the national stage and avenge Coach Miller’s loss to Thad Matta’s Buckeyes in 2007.

The Buckeyes (28-7, 13-5 Big Ten) will be the biggest challenge for the Arizona Wildcats (27-7, 12-6 Pac-12) since they defeated the No. 5 Florida Gators back in December. They have only played two teams ranked in the AP Top 25 since then and went 1-1.

Conversely, Ohio State has battled in the trenches, playing 10 teams ranked in the Top 25 in 2013, finishing with a 5-5 record, and winning the Big Ten Conference Championship.

This is Matta’s fourth consecutive Sweet 16, and Miller is hoping to return to the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons.

Key Matchups

cats parrom hillJunior forward DeShaun Thomas is a first-team All-American that leads the Big 10 in scoring with 19.5 points per game. He is 6’7″ and a prolific three-point shooter that also leads the team in rebounds. The Buckeyes play him at the four, so matching up with him could be difficult for Miller’s talented freshman big three.

Coach Miller said about Thomas:

Throughout the game it really has to be a team effort as a team guarding Thomas, because he sets so many ball screens. He’s such an incredible offensive player and a great three-point shooter. We have to rotate to him and do a great job as a team. The thing that’s different about him is that he’s too big and physical for guards.

Junior point guard Aaron Craft is on a high right now. After shooting only 40 percent from the field against Iowa State on Sunday, he made his only three-point attempt with 0.5 seconds left on the clock. Craft has only shot 30 percent from beyond the arc this season but nailed this one with his foot dangerously close to the line.

Craft is No. 2 in the Big 10 in assists, averaging 4.6 per game, and steals with 2.0. Arizona’s point guard, Mark Lyons trails Nick Johnson in both assists and steals. Johnson is fourth in the Pac-12 in steals and assists.

Coach Miller said about Craft:

Part of what makes him such a special basketball player is who he is as a person. He’s a 4.0 student, an incredible leader and as good of a competitor as you’ll find. He puts a lot of emphasis and plays hard on defense, but he’s also talented there. There are a lot of guys who play hard, but they’re limited. He has exceptional quickness and quick hands and he is strong. His anticipates really well. On offense, he runs the show. It’s not about scoring points for him it’s about being a point guard, and he is an extension of the coach. All of the things that you can say to give him incredible respect, that’s where I’m at.

 

Final Analysis

duckuclaThe Wildcats are playing their best basketball right now, and they need to be running on all cylinders for this highly-anticipated matchup. The Buckeyes have won 10 in a row, play in the highest-ranked conference in the nation and won their conference championship.

The Wildcats’ kryptonite is the Pac-12 Conference. They are 14-0 against non-conference teams including wins over two other teams currently in the Sweet 16—Florida and Miami.

It is possible for the ‘Cats to meet up with conference foe Oregon in the Final Four and exact revenge for snapping their 14-game win streak.

Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Week 1 ASU Football Spring Practice Stock Report

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The Arizona State football team took the practice field last week for the first time in 2013 and this season seemed different than before. Last season’s first spring practice saw the introduction of head coach Todd Graham and his staff. This season, the players are more comfortable and familiar with Graham, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same old, same old.

Coach Graham has opted this year for shorter, more intense practices. I had the opportunity to visit practices last week and was surprised by this trend.

“We will only go 20 periods,” Graham said. “It is a lot faster, but we’re getting a lot more reps in a shorter period of time. So I thought today was really good.”

Senior center Kody Koebensky shared his thoughts about the new practice regime.

“He didn’t keep us out there that long, but during that time frame, I mean, he gets 100 percent out us, whether we want to or not,” Koebensky said. “We’re getting real good work within that two hours.”

Thursday’s practice was the first time that the Devils padded up and experienced full contact since the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29.

Here is the list of those whose stock is rising and who is on the way down.

 

Stock Up: D.J. Foster

dj springThe sophomore running back was injured in the final game of the season and sat out most of it with only one rushing attempt and two receptions.

The injury to the 180-pound freshman was due to his small stature. The Freshman All-American entered spring practice at 205 pounds—adding 25 pounds of pure muscle.

Foster was an integral part of the Sun Devils rushing attack last season and was second on the team in all-purpose yards with 1026. His 533 receiving yards were third best on the team and his 493 rushing yards were fourth best.

Foster was highly recruited out of Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School and was one of only six players in Sun Devil history to start in their first opportunity as a true freshman. He was also awarded All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention, and his 38 receptions along with 533 yards registered No. 2 all time for Arizona State freshmen.

With the added bulk, Foster believes that his future is blaringly bright.

“It will help taking those hits from the big boys up front.” Foster said knowing the muscle will assist in “adding longevity and last as an every down back.”

 

Stock Down: Chans Cox

Arizona State’s prized recruit, linebacker Chans Cox could be one-and-done this spring.

Cox was battling an ankle injury in his final season at Lakeside’s Blue Ridge High School and it apparently returned during Tuesday’s first practice.

He spent the week’s practices in a walking boot and did not participate in practice, performing exercises on the sidelines.

Cox, who graduated early to participate in spring drills, was slotted to play the Devilbacker position left vacant by Brandon Magee. The spot will now most likely be filled by redshirt junior Carl Bradford.

“Chans, we’ll just kind of see how it goes week by week,” Coach Todd Graham said Saturday. “They’re going to do a little procedure on, so (it’s) probably likely that either one of them won’t be very good (to participate this spring).”

Graham is also speaking of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Stephon McCray who is recovering from a torn meniscus.

 

Stock Up: Kevin Ozier

ozier springThe heir apparent to lead the Sun Devils receiving squad made a big impression in the first week of spring practice.

Ozier is unofficially listed as the No. 1 receiver on the depth chart and has caught some nice passes in tight coverage.

Coach Graham has brought in a number of new receivers that will be joining the team in the fall and will push Ozier, Alonzo Agwuenu and Richard Smith.

Ozier played in all 13 games and was sixth on the team in receptions and receiving yards. He was the No. 3 wide receiver with 21 receptions for 324 yards and five touchdowns. The two receivers ahead of him both graduated last season and Ozier is ready to anchor this receiving corps.

The former walk-on has earned the respect of the coaches and teammates; Vontaze Burfict is witholding comment.

 

Stock Down: Alex Garoutte

Here we go again.

After starting the 2012 season as the Sun Devils starting kicker, Garoutte only converted 1-of-4 field goals under 40 yards in the Sept. 29 game against California and lost the starting job to Jon Mora. Mora converted his only attempt versus Colorado but was supplanted by Garoutte the following week against Oregon.

Garoutte missed his only attempt and Mora was permanently reinstated as the field-goal kicker. Mora went on to miss only one attempt in the final five games, but attempted nothing over 40 yards.

The onus is on the redshirt junior Garoutte to take over the full range of kicking responsibilities: kickoffs, field goals and PATs. He, however, has not impressed coaches with his field-goal accuracy.

Garoutte went all season without missing a PAT, he was 51-of-51 coming into the final game of the season and missed one to finish off the year just shy of 100 percent at 59-of-60.

Hopefully, this isn’t a harbinger of things to come in the 2013 season as field goals and PATs can make or break the Sun Devils in close games.

 

Stock Up: Taylor Kelly

Kelly springIt’s hard to fathom the amount of improvement in the redshirt junior quarterback from Eagle, Idaho. Last year at this time, he was in a dead heat battling young guns Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici for the starting position.

Even with the decimation of Northern Arizona in the season opener, Coach Graham wasn’t sold on Kelly and allowed Michael Eubank considerable playing time in the next three games. Excluding the Oregon game, Kelly stepped it up and became the quarterback that Graham knew he could be and thus pulled back on Eubank’s snaps.

Kelly cemented his position in the final three games of the season averaging 235 yards passing and 47 yards rushing. He also added eight passing touchdowns and one rushing score over that stretch.

Coach Graham has brought in a bevy of new receivers for the upcoming season, but for now, Kelly needs to build a rapport with receivers that aren’t coming out of the H-back or running back position. He has found Kevin Ozier several times in practice but also needs to look for Alonzo Agwuenu and Richard Smith.

Kelly is firing on all cylinders and is enjoying his time out on the field in the first week.

“I’m loving it.” Kelly said. “We understand where to go and where to line up so we are moving at a much faster pace.”

 

Stock Down: Carlos Mendoza

The remarkable freshman linebacker received his first start last season in the Week 2 game against Illinois filling in for Brandon Magee. Mendoza intercepted two passes that game before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury and garnered seven tackles through the first two games.

Mendoza had surgery to repair the shoulder injury and was slated to dominate at the WILL position this spring and heading into the fall.

At spring practice, he was wearing a green ‘no-contact’ jersey on Thursday and Saturday and has yet to participate in anything other than drills.

Redshirt senior Grandville Taylor has been playing the WILL position and deserves the start if Mendoza isn’t ready for contact in the fall.

 

New Faces, New Places

The coaching staff for Todd Graham has gone through a bit of a shakeup.

As of the beginning of spring practice, there have been several changes on and off the field.

shippJackie Shipp (pictured), a former NFL linebacker with the Miami Dolphins who spent 22 years coaching college football including 14 years as the defensive line coach at the University of Oklahoma, will coach the defensive line at Arizona State.

This will allow Defensive Coordinator Paul Randolph to focus on the linebackers. Chris Ball was also promoted to Co-Defensive Coordinator and will coach the secondary.

The recruiting staff also saw changes in welcoming 13-year coaching veteran Sherman Morris to the Assistant Athletics Director for Recruiting position. Morris, who has spent the past six years as the Director of Player Personnel for Les Miles at Louisiana State University, comes to Tempe with several recruiting accolades, including the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in Division I football in 2009.

The on-campus recruiting coordinator, Bo Graham, leaves the recruiting office and will take over as the running backs coach. Graham formerly coached his father’s running back squad at the University of Tulsa.

Former Texas Tech interim head coach Chris Thomsen was originally hired in January as the running backs coach following the departure of Larry Porter to the University of Texas. Thomsen, one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, was named the offensive line coach after Graham announced that Bob Connelly would not be returning in the 2013 season.

Here is the revamped list of all Arizona State coaches.

  • Todd Graham—Head Coach
  • Paul Randolph—Senior Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator (Linebackers)
  • Mike Norvell—Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
  • Chris Ball—Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Passing Game/Safeties
  • Jackie Shipp—Assistant Coach/Defensive Line
  • Chris Thomsen—Assistant Coach/Offensive Line
  • DeVaughn Alexander—Assistant Coach/Wide Receivers
  • Bo Graham—Assistant Coach/Running Backs
  • Chip Long—Assistant Coach/Tight Ends (Recruiting Coordinator)
  • Joe Lorig—Assistant Coach/Special Teams (Cornerbacks)
  • Four Graduate Assistants including former ASU standouts Rudy Burgess and Aaron Pflugrad

 

Why Arizona Can’t Get Too Confident Against Surprising Crimson

cats confident

Give it up for the gentlemen from Harvard.

After decades of producing Presidents, politicians and Nobel Prize winners, the Crimson has recently begun to produce professional athletes in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jeremy Lin.

Harvard added another notch to its athletics resume on Thursday night by securing its first NCAA tournament victory over No. 3 seed New Mexico, 68-62. The Lobos were a trendy pick in this year’s tourney and were even included in many Final Four projections by so-called “experts.”

So much for that. The only thing that can be predicted about the NCAA tournament is that it is unpredictable. This at least makes me feel somewhat better about my awful projections.

The Arizona Wildcats limped into the NCAA tourney with a 5-5 record over their past 10 games and were handed a No. 6 seed and tasked to take on No. 11 Belmont, who had been winless in five previous attempts. I searched high and low earlier this week looking for somebody to pick the Wildcats over Belmont and was unsuccessful.

Why the disrespect for Sean Miller’s team that won its first 14 games and was ranked as high as No. 3 in the polls? More importantly, will that sentiment carry over into Saturday’s third-round game against Harvard?

harvardGame Details

Region: West

Date: March 23, 2013

Time: 6:10 p.m. ET

Location: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah

 

Let’s take a quick look at the Harvard Crimson and their road to Saturday’s matchup.

Head coach Tommy Amaker has a college basketball pedigree that is as respected in basketball circles as a Harvard degree is in business circles. He was an All-American at Duke and assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski for nine years until he got his shot at Seton Hall. Then he coached the Pirates to four consecutive postseason berths, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance.

Amaker went on to coach the vaunted Michigan program and coached the Wolverines for seven seasons prior to coming to Harvard. His Crimson team won a share of  the Ivy League championship in 2010-11 and outright champion the past two seasons.

The Crimson doesn’t have the best RPI (94) in the country coming out of the Ivy League and their strength of schedule rank of 199 is almost laughable. Whenever they did play a top-50 RPI team, they went 0-3 and only 1-5 against the top 100.

Thus begs the question: Is Harvard really that good or was New Mexico that bad?

I believe it was a combination of the two. Guard Wesley Saunders led the team with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting and a near-perfect 8-of-9 from the charity stripe. Fellow guard Laurent Rivard scored 17 with five three-pointers.

The Lobos shot a miserable 37 percent from the field and 21 percent from beyond the arc. Center Alex Kirk was a one-man show with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but one man does not make a team.

cats-bazzHarvard runs an odd four-guard lineup, the likes of which Arizona has rarely, if ever, seen. The four are all deadly from anywhere on the court which earns the team a No. 12 national ranking in field-goal percentage and No. 27 in three-point percentage.

Arizona is No. 6 and No. 5, respectively.

After watching both the Arizona/Belmont and the Harvard/New Mexico games, I can safely say that Arizona is playing with a chip on its shoulder and Harvard benefited from New Mexico’s poor play.

The last thing the Wildcats can afford is to be overconfident and get behind early. We have seen it time and again, trailing inferior teams and then switching into overdrive in the final minutes. As much fun as the “Cardiac Cats” were to watch in the regular season, let’s hope they don’t make another appearance on Saturday.

Arizona 76, Harvard 72

Predicting How Each Pac-12 Team Will Fare in Postseason

Jahii bazz

What a difference a year makes.

After only the conference champion was in the field of 64 in 2012, five teams received invitations to the NCAA Tournament this year, with three more receiving bids from the NIT.

Oddly enough, the College Basketball Invitational didn’t invite any Pac-12 teams to its 16-team field, although USC finished in a tie with Stanford, Arizona State and Washington that were all invited to the NIT.

Here is the breakdown of how all eight teams will do in their respective matchups.

National Invitation Tournament

No. 6 Washington at No. 3 Brigham Young

  • Location: Marriott Center, Provo, Utah
  • Date: Tuesday, March 19
  • Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
  • Television: ESPN
  • Final: BYU 90, Washington 79

No. 5 Stephen F. Austin at No. 4 Stanford

  • Location: Maples Pavilion, Stanford, Calf.
  • Date: Tuesday, March 19
  • Time: 11 p.m. ET
  • Television: ESPN2
  • Final: Stanford 58, SFA 57

The second round pits the Cardinal against Alabama where they will roll over the Tide and lose in the semifinals to Maryland.

No. 6 Detroit Mercy at No. 3 Arizona Statecolvin card

  • Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Date: Wednesday, March 20
  • Time: 10 p.m. ET
  • Television: ESPNU

The Arizona State Sun Devils (21-12, 9-9 Pac-12) were a bubble team for most of February, but it was evident that the pressure was closing in on the young program—they finished the regular season with four straight losses.

The Sun Devils defeated Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament and had the No. 1 seed UCLA Bruins on the ropes with a 15-point lead in the second half, which they surrendered in painful fashion.

Detroit Mercy (20-12, 12-4 Horizon) finished second in the regular season behind Valparaiso and lost in the first round of the Horizon Tournament to Wright State.

Prediction: Arizona State 81, Detroit Mercy 72

The second round will bring the winner of Baylor versus Long Beach State. The Devils could have a problem if they have to travel to Waco, as they went 4-6 on the road this season.

The good news is that they are 1-0 in Texas after defeating Texas Tech in December. I see them winning their bracket and advancing to the Final Four in New York City.

No. 12 Oregon at No. 5 Oklahoma State

  • Region: Midwestduckucla
  • Location: HP Pavilion, San Jose, Calif.
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 4:40 p.m. ET
  • Television: TNT

The Pac-12 Conference Champion Oregon Ducks (26-8, 12-6 Pac-12) dominated the tournament with victories over UCLA, Utah and Washington. They needed to perform well as they finished the regular season with embarrassing losses to Colorado and Utah on the road.

The Ducks began the season with such promise, starting 18-2 before losing Dominic Artis and three straight games. They won five of their next six before their four-game skid to end the regular season.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys’ (24-8, 13-5 Pac-12) final ranking at No. 17 was a little disappointing after reaching as high as No. 13 earlier in the month. The Cowboys finished third in the Big 12 behind the Kansas schools and earned a split with both schools.

Prediction: Oklahoma St. 86, Oregon 78

No. 11 Belmont at No. 6 Arizona

  • solo dunkRegion: West
  • Location: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:20 p.m. ET
  • Television: TNT

Everybody is calling this game their “upset special” or, “the game to watch in the first round of the West Region.

The Arizona Wildcats (25-7, 12-6 Pac-12) have been on shaky ground the past month, going 5-5 in their last 10 games—including giving up a 9-point lead to UCLA in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament—must be an Arizona thing.

The Belmont Bruins (26-6, 14-2 Ohio Valley) defeated the Murray State Racers by two in overtime, capping their conference title and winning 17 of their final 20 games. The Bruins are 0-5 in the NCAA Tournament, and although the Wildcats are 0-3 versus teams named Bruins this year, Coach Miller’s ‘Cats will emerge victorious.

Prediction: Arizona 76, Belmont 70

The Wildcats, however, will not get past the New Mexico Lobos in the second round.

No. 12 California at No. 5 Nevada Las Vegas

  • cal uclaRegion: East
  • Location: HP Pavilion, San Jose, Calif.
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:27 p.m. ET
  • Television: TRU TV

The California Golden Bears (20-11, 12-6 Pac-12) were the darlings of the league with a 9-1 streak that included wins at Arizona, over UCLA and a sweep of the Oregon Ducks. Their only loss during that stretch was a 4-point loss to Arizona State.

The Bears were riding high with a home game against an inferior Stanford team to close out the regular season.

They were embarrassed at home—losing by 13—but nothing could match the humiliation of losing in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, in overtime, to a Utah team that had amassed a total of four conference wins all season.

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (25-9, 10-6 MWC) had a little bit better season than the Utes that beat them the Thursday prior. The Rebels defeated the Colorado State Rams en route to a conference final matchup with the New Mexico Lobos where they lost 63-56.

If the Bears can get their mojo back, they can beat this UNLV team, especially since this is a virtual home game for them.

Prediction: Cal 69, UNLV 67

Facing Syracuse will be a much bigger problem for the Bears, one they won’t be able to overcome.

No. 10 Colorado at No. 7 Illinois

  • buff hoopsRegion: East
  • Location: Frank Erwin Special Events Center, Austin, Texas
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 4:40 p.m. ET
  • Television: TNT

The Colorado Buffaloes (21-11, 10-8 Pac-12) finished behind California in the regular season and lost in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Yet, the Buffaloes still received a higher seed than the Bears—strange. With the loss to Arizona in the quarters, they ended their season on a 4-4 tilt, but still managed a No. 10 seed.

The Illini on the other hand, lost four of their final six games, including a 2nd round loss in the Big Ten tournament and still managed a No. 7 seed.

Illinois did have big wins over Ohio St. and Indiana earlier in the year, but a losing conference record is never a good sign of consistency.

Prediction: Illinois 71, Colorado 68

No. 11 Minnesota at No. 6 UCLA

  • bazz dunkRegion: South
  • Location: Frank Erwin Special Events Center, Austin, Texas
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • Television: TRU TV

Have you seen Shabazz Muhammad play this year? He truly is something special.

The Bruins finished the season winning seven of their final eight games before losing Jordan Adams and eventually falling to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship.

They like to start off slow and sluggish and lull their opponents into a false sense of security before they strike when least expected.

The Bruins won the regular season title and finished the runner-up for the conference crown.

Even without Jordan Adams, they will have no problem with the Minnesota Golden Gophers (20-12, 8-10 Big Ten) who lost five of their final seven games and seven of their final 10.

Prediction: UCLA 79, Minnesota 68

The Florida Gators will most likely be their undoing in the second round, thus signaling the final game in Muhammad’s college career.

What Experts Say About Arizona’s 2013 NCAA Tournament Chances

miller fingers

Arizona Basketball has had a rocky road to the NCAA Tournament, and all the experts have something to say about it—and none of it is nice.

After losing three of their final five games and being bounced by UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament, the Wildcats are a trendy pick to be on “upset watch.” Members of ESPN, CBS Sports, USA Today and Yahoo! Sports are all predicting the Wildcats’ early ouster.

It wasn’t that long ago when Sean Miller’s Wildcats were 14-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country. Ultimately, teams are judged on how they finish and not how they begin, and Miller’s ‘Cats finished 5-5 in their final 10 games.

Game Details:

No. 6 Arizona Wildcats vs. No. 11 Belmont Bruins

  • cats-bazzWest Region
  • Location:  Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Date:  Thursday, March 21
  • Time:  7:20 p.m. ET
  • TV Coverage:  TNT

Here is what the others experts are saying about Arizona’s future in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

CBS Sports – Seth Davis

As soon as the matchup against Belmont was revealed on the CBS Selection Show on Sunday, the CBS Sports analyst claimed the Belmont Bruins would upset Arizona.

He later tweeted:

When asked about Belmont’s chances of making the Sweet 16, he replied:  “If I offer one win, will you take it? I think they’ll get ‘Zona.”

Yahoo! Sports – Pat Forde

Pat Forde has put together a comprehensive list of sleepers, bracket-wreckers, must-watch players and in Arizona’s case—The Fraudulent Five.

lyons hill

Prominent teams that could be bounced from the Dance early:

Memphis  Tough to trust the talented but looney Tigers, who miss enough free throws and commit enough turnovers to make just about every game against quality competition an arduous one. Josh Pastner is 0-2 as an NCAA tournament coach.

Michigan  The Wolverines wobbled down the stretch, losing half of their final 12 games. The last quality team they beat outside of Ann Arbor was Illinois – in January.

Arizona  Seems an eternity ago that the Wildcats were 14-0. Since then they are 11-7 and have beaten just one NCAA tournament team (Colorado).

Missouri  The Tigers have Final Four talent but sub-NIT poise and execution in late-game situations. Give them a chance to blow a lead in the final minutes and they will. They’re also helpless outside of Columbia, Mo.

Pittsburgh  Underperforming in the tournament is a proud Panthers tradition.

He also lists the Belmont Bruins as a bracket wrecker stating that:

“Coach Rick Byrd is 0-5 in the NCAA tourney, but this may be his year to win one. The senior backcourt of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson is one of the best in the Dance, and this team can shoot extremely well.”

 

USA Today: David Leon Moore

In the USA Today‘s breakdown of the West Region, Moore has No. 1 seed Gonzaga going all the way against the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes but also offers up this tidbit:

Potential upset: No. 11 Belmont over No. 6 Arizona. Is Belmont the best basketball program in the country never to have won an NCAA tournament game? This is the sixth NCAA appearance for Belmont since 2006, but its record stands at 0-5. Maybe they can end their losing streak in this one, and not just because they have a nickname — Bruins — that has beaten Arizona three times this year, all courtesy of UCLA. Belmont senior guard Ian Clark — 18.1 points a game, 46.3% from beyond the arc — is the kind of three-point marksman that can give Arizona fits.

Not only is Moore picking Belmont to upset Arizona, he is also predicting a Sweet 16 for the Bruins with a victory over New Mexico.

ESPN: Myron Medcalf

Medcalf is predicting an Arizona loss in his 10 Bold Predictions column on ESPN.com, he is also predicting that the entire Pac-12 loses their first game—that’s bold.

chen

The league can prove its worth with a strong showing in the NCAA tournament. But I think it’ll do the opposite and struggle throughout its brief stay in March Madness. I could see the Pac-12 losing its five first-round matchups. Yep. Sounds crazy, I know. But Minnesota has the athleticism and strength inside to upset UCLA. I don’t think Oregon is better than Oklahoma State. I think Anthony Bennett will lead UNLV to a win over Cal, even though the game will be played in San Jose. Illinois will get hot and torch Colorado. And Belmont is a tough mid-major that won’t be intimidated in its upset over Arizona. That’s an 0-5 tally for that league.

Matt Norlander: CBS Sports

CBS Sports.com Eye on College Basketball has listed the Arizona v. Belmont game one of the Five Absolute Must-See Matchups

Belmont has been a chic upset pick in many of its recent appearances. But it has never been seeded as high as this year, and now I have to believe this is Rick Byrd’s moment. His two-guard attack of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson are going to give fits to Arizona’s uneven backcourt. Belmont’s not a big team, but it is the best one on defense Byrd’s ever had.

Arizona’s just out of sorts. It’s talented but hasn’t fully come into form this year. Most times, I think trendy upset picks of the 11/6 and 12/5 variety need to be avoided. Not here. Expect a really good game to go Belmont’s way.

This is also a prediction that I don’t put much stock as he also claims the Michigan v. South Dakota State is going to be a close one and doesn’t pick a winner in the game, merely stating “don’t assume too much.”

Yahoo! Sports: Jeff Eisenberg

Yahoo! Sports’ analyst Jeff Eisenberg, writing for The Dagger, predicts Ohio State to win the West Region and calls for No. 4 Kansas State to be upset.

He doesn’t think Belmont will upset the ‘Cats but labels the matchup “The most intriguing.”

az zeus

The past two seasons, Belmont has entered the NCAA tournament as a trendy opening-round upset pick only fall quietly at the hands of Wisconsin and Georgetown. The OVC champion Bruins are hoping to have more success this March against an Arizona team that limped into the NCAA tournament, going 5-5 in its last 10 games after a 20-2 start. What will be especially interesting about this game is seeing if Arizona limit Belmont’s perimeter-heavy offense and if the Bruins can hold Arizona’s frontcourt in check. The dribble penetration of Kerron Johnson and the outside shooting of Ian Clark should give Arizona problems, but Belmont may struggle to match up with the Wildcats’ size inside.

Several Others

Bryan Fischer of Pac-12.com doesn’t sound sold on the Wildcats’ chances either:

It’s a really tough draw for the Wildcats as they open with an excellent shooting team in Belmont. The Bruins are 4th in the country in field goal percentage and rank in the top 15 in points scored. That means defense will be a key factor in advancing further in March. Nick Johnson and several others looked like they were re-energized in the Pac-12 tournament and Sean Miller will likely need even more on both ends of the floor. Stopping guard Ian Clark will be a big thing for Arizona, who draw a very tough match up in their opening round game.

Bruins have beaten the Wildcats three times this season already, could there be a fourth?

Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports Eye on College Basketball lists Belmont as one of 10 non-BCS teams to watch:

Is this the year the Bruins break through and finally live to their reputation as a perennial upset selection? They have the right matchup for it, as they can force turnovers and knock down 3-pointers – and Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark have the ability to really make life difficult for Mark Lyons and Arizona. Coach Rick Byrd has a deep and experienced roster, and they might win a game.

Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lists Belmont over Arizona as his West Region Upset Special

No. 11 Belmont (26-6) against No. 6 Arizona (25-7). The Wildcats are one year away and they have very few quality wins after Jan. 1. Belmont is always a team that is scary as the Bruins are athletic and feature a go-to guy in Ian Clark (18.1 ppg).

Why Carrick Felix is the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player

cfelix

 

Carrick Felix entered his senior season with something to prove.

The hometown product from Millennium High School in Goodyear, Ariz., just west of Phoenix, was not recruited to play Division I basketball after averaging 19.7 points and 13 rebounds per game in his high school career.

He signed with the College of Southern Idaho in 2008 and received a medical redshirt in his first season. The 2009-10 season saw Felix average 14.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game at Southern Idaho and earned him a spot on the Sun Devils’ roster after the departure of standouts James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph.

Felix struggled to make an impact in the 2010-11 season, seeing action in 30 games, but only getting the start in eight. He averaged a mere 4.6 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. He shot a paltry 39 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc. The Sun Devils won 22 games that year but lost in the first round of the NIT, an embarrassing end to a promising season.

felix dunkThe 2011-12 season was an outright disaster for the Sun Devils. Their record of 10-21 was one of the worst in a long time, and Carrick Felix was the second-leading scorer behind Trent Lockett. Felix’s 10.5 points and four boards per game were an improvement, but nowhere near what head coach Herb Sendek had hoped to see in the junior wing who started all but two games.

Felix graduated with a B.S. in Communications in the spring of 2012 and was accepted into the Masters of Liberal Studies program in the summer. Heading into the 2012-13 season, there was a new attitude or swagger in Tempe. The freshman phenom, Jahii Carson, was academically cleared to play, and there were two new assistant coaches with NBA pedigrees in Eric Musselman and Larry Greer on the sidelines.

In two seasons at Arizona State, Felix averaged 7.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He shot 41 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point territory. He also had zero career double-doubles; this season, he recorded three in a one-week span.

After the 2012-13 regular season, he led the Pac-12 with 12 double-doubles and nine in-conference. His 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds combo per game are second best in the Pac-12 behind Stanford’s Dwight Powell with 15.6 points and 8.8 boards.

Felix finished the season in the top 15 of six categories in the Pac-12, including No. 6 in steals and No. 7 in rebounds.

His field-goal percentage jumped to 51 percent and his three-point shooting improved to 36 percent. He started all 31 games and led the Devils in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds and steals.

felix ZonaHis 14.2 points and 34 blocks were second best on the team as well. He scored in double digits in 25 games this season and 20 or more in seven games including 22 in his final regular-season game against rival Arizona.

The numbers are astounding, and Felix was named to the second-team All-Pac-12 as well as the exclusive Pac-12 All-Defense team with teammate Jordan Bachynski.

The 6’6”, 196-pound guard/forward had a bumpy road to begin his college basketball career, but he peaked at the best time possible. If Felix does not get picked up in the 2013 NBA draft, he has the talent and skill to play in Europe or the D-League to prove that he can play for the NBA. I am sure wherever he goes will be better than southern Idaho.