Monday Rewind: Arizona ready to kick some tail, Oregon kicks off spring ball, and more
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. The weekend was good to us in Pac-12 country after an outstanding tournament. Let’s dive in.
Arizona isn’t satisfied with a conference title sweep
“We’ll find out where we’re going tomorrow, and then look forward to kicking some ass,” said Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd immediately after the Wildcats beat UCLA to capture the Pac-12 Tournament championship.
He was talking about Arizona’s seeding and regional matchups in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, where the Wildcats will play as the top seed in the South Region. The other top three seeds in the group: Villanova, Tennessee, and Illinois. The Wildcats could get a potential Elite Eight matchup with Tennessee for a spot in the Final Four, offering Lloyd and his crew a chance to redeem one of just three losses during the regular season.
This Arizona team, though, doesn’t seem to care who’s in front of them right now. Whether it was a Stanford team that couldn’t miss, a Colorado team that proved the regular-season result was no fluke, or a UCLA team playing as well as anyone in the country, Arizona was up to the task.
The Wildcats, at times, made things look easy in the Pac-12 Tournament. They got to their stuff when they wanted to get to it. When teams had defensive adjustments to try and take away one action, Arizona had multiple counters to come back with.
Lloyd saved the Koloko slip screen for the very end of the Stanford game after using it pretty regularly in most earlier games, and it proved to be the de-facto game-winner against the Cardinal. Colorado opened the semifinal game with the Wildcats playing drop on the Azuolas Tubelis-Christian Koloko high-low action, and Tubelis just started banging home free-throw-line-extended jumpers. Against UCLA, Bennedict Mathurin unleashed.
There just aren’t any other teams in college basketball playing at the level of the Arizona Wildcats right now.
They are battle-tested.
They are multiple in the ways they can hurt you.
They have a number of guys who can create for themselves or for others.
And they are seemingly unsatisfied with 31 wins and two conference championships.
“It’s all about winning it all,” Mathurin said after the UCLA game. “We won the Pac-12 regular season, (won) the Pac-12 championship, now we’re going for the big thing. We’re grateful but not satisfied.”
Oregon opens spring ball with a key face in a unique place
One thing that seems very evident right away from first-year head coach Dan Lanning is he’s not going to peel the curtain back much, so when he does, it’s going to be something key.
Through his first two post-practice media sessions to begin Oregon’s spring period, Lanning was pretty global, pretty big-picture.
“We have to ID quickly some areas of weakness and some strengths,” he told reporters. “I think we have good personnel but as your personnel changes, you have to adapt to your personnel. So, quickly we have to figure out who are the guys who can go make plays on the ball. Defensively, who are the guys that can go make plays in space? Who can rush the passer? Who can protect and own the ball on offense? Trying to just identify some of those traits as a staff. And then as players, we’re trying to create that competitive toughness and that brotherhood that’s required to play at a high level of football in this league.”
Lanning was asked if he’ll approach this spring period differently with the Ducks than the Georgia staff he was previously on approached the 2021 spring period. It was a really interesting question from Tyson Alger at the I-5 Corridor and one I hadn’t thought of before. That Georgia team was clearly at the top of the college football pack. This Oregon team is in a transitory mode. Do you look at things differently in those two very distinctly separate places?
“You put the goal in front of you and that’s that day. Our goal today was to be the best version of the Oregon Duck football team that we can be,” Lanning said. “Last year, when I was at Georgia, we didn’t start (in the spring) talking about national championships on that (first) day either. You focus on how you can get better in spring.
“Our goal here, this is growth season. What can we get better at right now? Let’s have a grower’s mindset. Let’s be learners and growers. Let’s go out here and figure out what can I do better. I think every guy’s natural reaction as a player and as a coach is to come off the field and they want to pull up the clip of film where they caught a ball or they made a tackle or they punched out a pass. I challenged our players to come off the field and go find something you did wrong that you can make sure you don’t do wrong tomorrow or the next day.”
It seems a little coachspeak-like, but its nevertheless a strong approach to take. To call it “growth season” sort of levels the field a bit. To ask everyone to look for where they can improve rather than where they’ve already shined tells a young guy or a new guy that they’re at the same starting point as the vet. To be in full-on identification mode means your eyes are wide-open as a coaching staff. Lanning has talked about coming in absent any preconceived notions about what he has or doesn’t have.
“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” Lanning said.
He also said that “every guy in our program” is going to cross-train at multiple positions. They want to be multiple. They want to be agile. They want to have flexibility up and down the roster.
One name to watch: sophomore Jeffrey Bassa.
Last season, the freshman safety slid down to linebacker to fill a need, but former head coach Mario Cristobal stressed that the move wasn’t permanent and that the 6-foot-3 Utah native would be moving back to safety after the season. He played in 11 games his first year, totaling 48 tackles (fifth on the team), 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and one pass breakup.
On the Ducks’ spring roster, Bassa is listed at inside linebacker.
“I think inside linebackers nowadays, there’s no such thing as a true Mike ‘backer anymore,” Lanning said. “You have to have speed on the field and he’s a guy that can be sideline-to-sideline. (He) has the athleticism of a DB but has the physicality of a linebacker. All good linebackers nowadays can run and Jeff has that trait.”
That’s a potentially important development because if Bassa takes the next step in his game, the Ducks have the potential for three all-conference-caliber linebackers in the middle of the defense. Noah Sewell should be one of the best players in the conference next season. Justin Flowe, if he can stay healthy, has star potential. There’s a scenario where Oregon has three athletic, elite playmakers in the middle of their defense.
If you’re in ID mode searching for potential strengths, there’s one right there. And, boy, if Lanning doesn’t immediately spring to mind as one of the top defensive minds in college football who can best maximize playmakers.
George Kliavkoff gets it
The first seven games of the 2022 Pac-12 Tournament were on the Pac-12 Network. Arizona, the eventual champion and best team in the league, played its debut game of the tournament—a wonderful contest with Stanford—on the Pac-12 Network. The first tournament game played on a channel other than the Pac-12 Network was USC-Washington—another entertaining game—that tipped off on FS1 at 10:30 p.m. CT/11:30 p.m. ET on a Thursday night.
Only three of the 11 tournament games were on a channel offered by most streaming services around the country. They had tip-off times at 11:30 p.m. ET, 11:30 p.m. ET, and 9 p.m. ET. The hotel media members stayed at in Las Vegas, the site of the Pac-12 Tournament, offered the Big Ten Network but did not offer the Pac-12 Network.
It’s not uncommon for conferences to put their early tournament games on their own network or even all of their tournament on their own network. The first 10 games of the Big Ten tournament were on the Big Ten Network. Only the two semifinal games and the championship were on CBS. Eight of the first 10 games in the SEC tournament were on the SEC Network before moving over to ESPN for the two semifinals and the championship.
The major difference: those two leagues aren’t fighting for visibility, and they don’t have a three-hour time difference between the guys who play the games on one coast and the guys who frame the conversation on the other coast.
The Pac-12 Tournament was a tremendous tournament. There was high-level basketball played all throughout. Colorado could win an NCAA Tournament game. A fully healthy Oregon team could win an NCAA Tournament game. Perhaps even Washington State or Washington could do so as well.
The Pac-12 conference ranks fifth as a whole in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom, behind the Big 12, the SEC, the Big Ten, and the Big East. The ACC is directly below the Pac-12 and got in five teams to the Pac-12’s three. (Every ACC tournament game was on ESPN or ESPN2.) Then there’s the Mountain West, which got four teams in compared to the Pac-12’s three. The West Coast Conference ranked ninth in KenPom and got in just as many teams as the Pac-12. There needs to be more respect paid to the league, but the league has to help itself.
In that regard, put some faith in new commissioner George Kliavkoff.
“I’m very happy with the number of games that we produce at the Pac-12 Network and the quality of those games we produce,” he told SI’s Sam Connon. “I’m not happy with the distribution of the Pac-12 Network, I’ve been very public about that. It’s part of what we’re gonna fix when we renegotiate our media rights at the end of the current term.”
That term ends in 2024, and it’s a huge issue at the very top of Kliavkoff’s docket.
Colorado has a legitimate gripe with the NCAA Tournament selection process even if it doesn’t really have the résumé to make too much of a stink. The Buffs beat the best team in America, went to the semifinals of a major conference tournament, and won 21 games. And forgive me if I’m leaving someone out, but did any of the major bracketologists ever talk about Colorado this season? Anyone? Bueller? Come forward if you did.
But we sure were inundated with talk about Michigan and Notre Dame and Rutgers. (Colorado sits four spots ahead of Rutgers in KenPom, if you were wondering.)
The way to fix that is to get more eyeballs on your teams as often as possible. Trust Kliavkoff has a plan to do so. Distribution of the Pac-12 Network, which is a good product, has to be better.
According to John Canzano, he’s also looking to move the conference headquarters away from downtown San Francisco—where Canzano reports they’ve paid $92 million in rent over the last 11 years—to Las Vegas.
He seems a shrewd businessman. Canzano asked Kliavkoff where he was staying during the Pac-12 Tournament, and the commissioner of a power conference league replied he was staying in his own home. That’s a stark departure from the seven-stack-a-night villa with butler service the former commissioner once booked.
Kliavkoff has battles to fight on multiple fronts. Arizona and UCLA returning to college basketball’s elite helps. Oregon and USC doing the same in football would also be a huge boon, especially so if Utah remains a power. The rest will be left to the commissioner. It’s good to know he has the same concerns most of the conference’s following has as well.
Shoutouts of the week
No gripes with the All-Tournament team. They were:
- Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona: The best player at the tournament. The guard averaged 19 a game for the champion and put up a dazzling 27-point, seven-assist, four-rebound performance in the title game.
- Christian Koloko, Arizona: Backed up his recognition as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Was excellent in a number of ways in every game.
- Spencer Jones, Stanford: In two games, Jones had 54 points on 20-of-35 shooting and 10-of-19 shooting from 3.
- Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA: In the last five games, Jaquez is averaging 23.4 points and 8.2 rebounds a game while shooting north of 60% four times and posting a total of seven turnovers in 176 minutes. He makes UCLA a Final Four team if he continues to play the way he has been over the last two weeks.
- Jules Bernard, UCLA: Scored 19 points, then 15 points, then 19 points. UCLA has a wealth of scorers and Bernard is getting hot at the best time.
- Boogie Ellis, USC: While everyone else around him struggled, Ellis carried the Trojans. He had 17 points in a win over Washington, then had 27 points in USC’s loss to UCLA. If not for Ellis’ elite shot-making in that game, the Trojans might have been embarrassed.
It feels wrong to leave off one of Colorado’s two forwards, but you’ll have a tough time pulling someone off to make room. Someone always gets snubbed.