‘Non-shock jocks’ talk: College hoops

Brian Woods and Eli Asch

Last week was NBA basketball, so this week we’ll take it down a notch and talk some college hoops.   There’s a lot to talk about but let’s keep it focused on the PAC-10 for now, since that’s a little closer to home for most people (sorry Eli).   I’ll go ahead and say that the PAC-10 will get at least six teams into the tourney, and maybe as many as eight.   That shows that they are indeed a solid conference.   My problem when looking at this league is this: Yeah, they have some solid teams that will beat up on each other during the season, but I don’t see any team cutting down the nets in March.

PAC-10 teams certainly have been beating up on each other.   Stanford and UCLA are the only two teams with fewer than six losses in conference play (UCLA stands at 12-2 and Stanford at 10-3).

I’m a bit higher on both of these teams, though, than you are, as I think they can both go deep into the tournament and maybe (in this year without a truly dominant team) win it all.   Stanford is anchored by the twin towers of Brook and Robin Lopez, a pair of seven-footers who between them average almost 29 points, 14 rebounds, and four-and-a-half blocks per game.   Playing rock solid interior defense and taking and making a lot of high-percentage inside shots are great ways to do some damage in March.

And UCLA has a big man of its own: 6′ 10″ freshman Kevin Love, who hails from lovely Lake Oswego, Oregon, averages a double-double (17 points and 11 boards) and can step outside and hit the three, shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc this year.   Last time we talked you said that you thought UCLA had a shot to challenge for the title: what’s changed?

I definitely think UCLA has the best chance at getting there, with Stanford close behind.   They both play great defense and have an inside presence, two necessities for winning in March.   However, right now I see three, possibly four teams better than anyone in the PAC-10, thus I don’t think they have a shot at the title.

Two of those teams that have impressed me played just this past Sunday, when #2 Tennessee beat previously unbeaten and #1 Memphis.   After watching most of that game, I think UCLA would be overmatched by either of them.   They both shoot the three well and have quick guards/swingmen that can get to the basket.   That being said, one thing that scares me about both teams, but Memphis in particular, is their free-throw shooting.   Memphis is shooting 58 percent from the line as a team for the season and that spells trouble when it comes to tourney time.

Kansas is the other team that I believe could beat UCLA right now.   They can match the Bruin’s size with 6′ 11″ senior Sasha Kaun, and have some great guards in Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers.   And keep in mind that this team has only lost two games all year by a total of four points.   The possible fourth team that I have above UCLA is a healthy North Carolina team.   They haven’t been at 100 percent all year, and are still 25-2.   If they get healthy, especially point guard Ty Lawson, I think they can compete with any team in the nation.

Memphis and Tennessee actually both worry me quite a bit come tournament time.   They both live and die with the three ball (Memphis has attempted 612 threes on the season and Tennessee a whopping 688).   Come a cold streak at the wrong time (more likely for Memphis, 34 percent three-point shooters as a team) both of these teams will find their national title hopes dashed.

I think the game between the two was indicative of their true ability: Tennessee is slightly better and has more balance, which it showed by winning on a night when its star Christ Lofton went for only seven points.

But let’s end this column back where we started: in the PAC-10.   The Washington State Cougars were many people’s early season darlings, rattling off 14 straight season-opening wins.   Since then they have only posted a 7-5 mark, though, although they have at times showed some mettle.   Can the Cougs right the ship and make a run in March to make people forget their February follies?

Last year Washington State surprised everyone by winning 26 games and entered March Madness as a #4 seed.   This year, with a weak non-conference schedule and a very deep PAC-10, they aren’t shocking anybody.     I was in Pullman last Thursday for the Washington State/Arizona State game, which WSU won, and wasn’t very impressed.   They play great team defense and at times executed a zone offense to perfection, but lack the outside shooting and athleticism of the elite teams.   I see them going into the tournament as a seven or eight seed and having a tough time in the second round against those one or two seeds.