Monday Rewind: Oregon's run, USC's defense... again, and CFP expansion
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. Let’s dive in.
Jacob Young is a bully
And I mean that in the most respectful way possible.
The Oregon guard is a leader and a tone-setter, and that was specifically true over the past week in helping the Ducks to a pair of historic victories.
Oregon beat No. 3 UCLA on the road in overtime, and then followed it up with a road win over No. 5 USC two nights later.
“When he gets it rolling, he gets downhill and he’s shifty, and then he pulled up and hit a couple, which really put pressure on (UCLA),” coach Dana Altman said of Young after the win over the Bruins.
Young had 23 points against UCLA. He shot 61% from the field and only took two triples, electing instead to just pound the ball and pound the ball and pound the ball. He got to the bucket and then with defenders loading up for drives, he hit a few pull-ups from around the free throw extended area.
The graduate transfer guard had been on an absolute tear in the new year. He scored 22 points against Utah and 16 against Oregon State prior to the UCLA game. The USC game featured a cold-shooting night (2-for-11) from Young, but Will Richardson picked up the slack with a 28-point performance.
Still, Young makes himself noticeable with a sense of urgency on the defensive end, even when the shot isn’t falling. He’s got six games this season with multiple steals and at least one steal in each of his last five games.
Write about USC, jinx USC
In this space last week:
“USC probably has the best defensive shot profile in the Pac-12. So far, it has done better than anyone at forcing lower-percentage shots and making the higher-percentage looks tougher. This will likely get tested as the games get tougher, but the Arizonas and UCLAs of the conference are middle-of-the-pack in terms of 3-point rate offensively, so unless things fall apart on the interior it’s not far-fetched to think USC could prove to be the class of the conference.”
And that was all statistically true a week ago. And then things feel apart from the inside out. Stanford and Oregon—both losses for USC’s first two defeats of the season—drilled a combined 20 triples at a 44% clip and scored a combined 58 paint points.
The Trojans need their defense to power things, and that side of the ball has to get back to playing at a top-10 level or USC’s going to keep dropping further and out of the poll. Just from a three-game week, USC’s defense dropped from 19th in adjusted efficiency to 34th nationally, per KenPom.
It’s not a huge drop, but without an elite offense (28th in adjusted efficiency) the Trojans going from high-end to pretty good on defense fits pretty nicely with the team sliding from top-five in the standings back to middle-of-the-pack.
The AP poll ultimately is meaningless in college basketball; the NET ranking is much more impactful, and USC currently sits 28th in it. Arizona sits No. 2.
As the Trojans close out the month of January, a date with the Wildcats looms. The two will meet on Feb. 5 in Tucson, a week before USC plays UCLA at home.
In the run-up to that potentially decisive two-game span, USC will face offenses that currently rank 96th (Colorado), 74th (Utah), 218th (ASU, twice), 98th (Stanford), and 182nd (Cal). Isaiah Mobley, Chevez Goodwin, Boogie Ellis, and Co. should be able to get their defensive percentages back down against that stretch of teams. If not, we’ll need to re-evaluate.
Making CFP expansion more difficult than it needs to be
Jim Phillips has a lot of perfectly reasonable and sensibly legitimate thoughts on the prospects of expanding the College Football Playoff before the current TV rights deal expires.
“We don’t have a College Football Playoff problem, we have a college football and collegiate athletics/NCAA problem,” the ACC commissioner said in a Friday conference call with reporters. He wants to see a year-long review of the sport and its calendar before focusing on a smaller concern.
Phillips wants to see the NCAA sit down and really dig into the ways immediate transfer eligibility and NIL legislation have impacted the sport.
Clemson, he said, “does not want to play any extra games.”
And that’s the oft-cited big one. Too many games. This year’s national champion played 15 games. If the CFP expands from four to 12, there’s a scenario where a national title-winner plays 17 games, the length of a full professional schedule for student-athletes the NCAA would still like to consider amateurs. Lots of problems with that. And the big-wigs of the sport are citing player health as a concern that should at least delay expansion until they can be addressed.
But that just feels a little too much like a disingenuous platitude rather than a legitimate worry.
So much of this just feels like posturing.
There’s a way to get us everything everyone wants: shorten the season. Whether that means doing away with conference championships or dropping the regular season from 12 games to 10 or 11, but either avenue would be met with fierce resistance mostly from the folks crying player health because it would impact their pockets.
The real problem.
The longer this drags on, the more it looks like CFP expansion is merely an endeavor in appeasement.
It’s why the Pac-12’s response to this week’s expansion news was great.
“The Pac-12 is strongly in favor of CFP expansion,” the conference said in a statement, “and we support all of the six most-discussed expansion models that would allow for expansion to occur in time for the final two years of the current CFP agreement.
Basically: we don’t care what form it takes, just make it happen.
There’s the obvious reason for the Pac-12 being game for just about anything—it has earned only two of the 32 CFP berths handed out since the thing began. Want into an exclusive field but can’t get in? Make the field less exclusive.
But I think everyone can get behind the Pac-12 saying what it wants and then being cool with whatever it takes to get there. If the other leagues actually want an expanded playoff, they should do the same. In reality, only the Pac-12 and SEC have been truly transparent throughout the whole process. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has no reason to push for an expanded field, and he has outwardly said the SEC is fine sitting at four on multiple occasions.
“The Pac-12 will continue to take a solution-oriented and flexible approach to allow for CFP expansion to occur as soon as possible,” the league said.
If everyone was operating that way, we would have already seen some kind of agreement. But they’re not. While it’s good to worry about what a professional schedule would do to players who aren’t professionals, if you’re also worried about the mechanisms now in place that make those same players a little more like professionals, it doesn’t feel like you’re worried about the things you actually say you are.
File away for the future…
Jayden de Laura, the Pac-12’s offensive freshman of the year in 2021, left Washington State for Arizona. The Cougars replaced de Laura almost immediately with Incarnate Word transfer Cameron Ward.
With all the talent flocking to Tucson, the quarterback spot was a big lingering question. Not anymore with de Laura joining the fold. He’s a playmaker, and it looks like he’ll be surrounded by playmakers.
And Washington State gets one of the most sought-after quarterbacks of the offseason.
Not a bad move for either side. And they’ll get to play each other in the penultimate week of the regular season, right before in-state rivalry games.
Shoutouts of the Week
- Arizona State linebacker Eric Gentry is a consensus Freshman All-American, the program’s first since 2018. Good recognition for the ASU youngster. He’s got a bright future.
- Dan Lanning says there will be a quarterback competition in Eugene this offseason despite the arrival of transfer quarterback Bo Nix. That’s the right approach to take.
What are we doing here?
Sometimes a non-Pac-12 news item will sneak in here. Not all the time. But an interesting thing happened with the new AP hoops poll.
Auburn received 11 more first-place votes than Gonzaga but landed at No. 2 behind the Zags, in part because someone put them at No. 9 on their ballot, seven spots below where the Tigers were actually placed.
Auburn’s résumé: 16-1, No. 5 in the NET, 5-0 on the road, 8-1 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents.
Put the Tigers below Gonzaga? Fine. That on its own isn’t grounds for having your vote taken away.
But having the Tigers at ninth below a 13-4 Villanova squad and a 14-3 Kentucky side is more than a bit curious. And to drop them from eighth to ninth following a week that featured road wins over Alabama (No. 24 NET) and Ole Miss is truly galaxy-brain stuff.