Player of the Week
[player: Shabazz Muhammad], UCLA Bruins
Shabazz has been finding his groove scoring the ball in recent weeks thanks in large part to his improved conditioning. The gifted lefty wing shows supreme confidence and does not turn down open looks. This was evident as he was itching for the ball down the stretch of UCLA’s recent overtime win over top 10 Missouri. Shabazz delivered in that game with two big three point baskets in the extra five minute session finishing with 27 for the contest. That marked his second straight 27 point game and fourth consecutive game scoring over 20 and shooting over 50% from the field, all UCLA wins. Shabazz is stating his case as an early conference player of the year candidate in the Pac 12 while living up to the expectations that basketball fans around the country had for the much heralded frosh. He attacks the rim hard and always seems to have his shoulders squared where he shoots with a consistent and compact form that usually misses either long or short but is online.
Askia Booker, Colorado Buffaloes
Booker has averaged 18ppg in just 22 minutes of action these past two games leading Colorado in back to back blow out victories to end the non conference slate. Booker is a dynamic scoring guard in a point guard’s body (6-1, 170 lbs) who plays like he believes he is option number one on offense for the solid 10-2 Colorado Buffaloes. He loves to push the tempo and will gladly pull up for the quick shot if available. Booker takes close to 5 three pointers a game and has had some rough nights shooting where he hinders his team’s chances, but when he has it going like these past few games (73% fg), the team can compete with anyone and be a factor in the Pac 12 race, something we will find out shortly as they start the new year Friday against Arizona.
Ahmad Starks, Oregon State Beavers
A lot of the things written above for Booker can be repeated here for Starks. He is an undersized shoot first point guard who loves to attack and has bouts of frustratingly bad streaks. Starks has tried to improve his point guard IQ this season and be more of a team leader, but its clear that aspect of the game still doesn’t come naturally for him. Ahmad is coming off a 21 point performance in a rout of Texas Pan American in his last game, but he makes this list for the 5 games prior where he averaged just 4.8 ppg and 1 apg on 26% shooting from the floor. He was particularly bad during a one point overtime loss to Towson on December 29th that ended a 5 game winning streak for the Beavers in which Starks shot 2 for 12 from the field. The Beavers are 10-3 and have some very good weapons along the front line and in emerging scoring wing [player: Roberto Nelson], but if the pg spot isn’t strong, they are limited with how far they can go.
Upcoming Game of the Week
Colorado Buffaloes at #3 Arizona Wildcats, Jan 3rd
The Wildcats (12-0) did what few Pac 12 teams have done in recent years and established themselves as an elite national program representing the conference by going undefeated out of conference. While this distinguishes them as the clear favorites to win the conference, it also puts a bull’s eye target directly on their jerseys where they will receive everyone’s best shot each night. This starts with a very tough Colorado (10-2) squad that briefly flirted with a top 25 ranking earlier in the season. The Buffaloes have only lost to a top 25 ranked Kansas squad and a 13-0 Wyoming squad, so they don’t have any bad beats. A win over Arizona puts them in good shape to make a run at an NCAA tournament birth. For Zona, they simply want to keep the good times rolling and further immerse themselves in the running for America’s #1 team. Both squads are led by their strong backcourts with Askia Booker and [player: Spencer Dinwiddie] leading the scoring load for Colorado while [player: Mark Lyons] and [player: Nick Johnson] do the same for Arizona. Also, from a prospect watch, keep an eye on the sf show down between [player: Andre Roberson] versus Zona’s versatile combination of [player: Solomon Hill] and Kevin Parom. All three guys are currently viewed as possible 2013 NBA draft picks.
Top 5 Out of Conference Victories
1-Arizona over Florida
At the time of this game, Arizona was ranked 8th while Florida was ranked 5th. It was a showdown between two unbeatens with final four aspirations. The game lived up to the hype as Florida had the game in control leading most of the night including a 6 point lead with 58 seconds remaining. But the Wildcats kept the pressure on as they did all evening and forced some late turnovers that culminated with point guard Mark Lyons driving the lane for a bank shot that provided the final points in a 65-64 victory.
2-UCLA over Missouri
UCLA was in desperate need of this win as they spent the first month and a half of the season languishing in what was anticipated to be a return to glory for the program. Missouri was ranked 7th in the nation and provided the Bruins with one last out of conference chance at redemption. UCLA jumped out to an early lead, but led by the outstanding play of point guard [player: Phil Pressey], the Tigers kept it close throughout before taking a seemingly commanding 9 point lead with just under five minutes remaining in the game. But the overused Pressy (19 points and 19 assists) struggled down the stretch turning it over 3 times in the final minutes including some questionable shot selection that allowed the Bruins to tie the game and send it to overtime. Once in OT, Shabazz Muhammad took over making a pair of critical threes to provide the difference in a 97-94 barn burner.
3-Arizona over San Diego State
There has been a lot of talk in recent years of which conference represents the best basketball out west, the Mountain West or the Pac 12. Well this was a very important game for the Pac to stake their claim in this argument. The Wildcats and Aztecs went back and forth the whole way with neither team establishing any significant lead or control. Much like the Florida game, it was once again senior point guard Mark Lyons who took the final possession over for his team where he drove the lane and was fouled with 13 seconds remaining and knocked down the free throws to give the Wildcats a 1 point lead. San Diego State had once last chance with guard Chase Tapley getting free for what appeared to be a wide open lane right down the middle only to have Nick Johnson come from nowhere to block the shot and save the day for Arizona.
4-Oregon over UNLV
Oregon improved to 5-0 and beat what was then the #18 ranked UNLV Runnin Rebels. It was yet another tight contest throughout with the Ducks pulling it out by 4 points led by freshman guard Damyean Dotson. Dotson scored 6 of his teams final 8 points and assisted on the other 2. UNLV was led by top 10 draft candidate [player: Anthony Bennett] who registered 22 points and 10 rebounds.
5-Stanford over Northwestern
While Northwestern is not a ranked victory for the Cardinal, they are a solid 9-4 squad and could possibly make this win look even better going forward if the Wildcats were to steal some quality wins of which there will be plenty of chances playing in America’s toughest conference, the Big 10. As with the previous four entrants on this list, this was yet another wild back and fourth game that came down to the final seconds with Stanford pulling it out by 2 points. Junior forward [player: Josh Huestis] led the cardinal with 18 points and 12 boards while Aaron Bright provided the winning touches by making a three with 1:30 left in the game that would prove to be the deciding basket as Northwestern was held scoreless from there.
-UCLA’s Larry Drew is averaging an impressive 8.6 assists per game to just 1.7 turnovers. His play goes largely unnoticed, but he is a decent defender and knows how to run a team like a pass first point guard.
-Arizona State has not only an under the radar conference player of the year candidate in [player: Jahii Carson], but also an under the radar NBA draft candidate in 7-2 center [player: Jordan Bachynski]. Jordan is averaging 10 points 7 rebounds and an impressive 4.5 blocks per game in just 24 minutes of playing time. At 11-2 entering conference play, the Sun Devils might be the biggest surprise team in the pac 12.
-Washington State’s sophomore shooting guard DaVonte Lacy is answering the biggest question the Cougars had coming into the season, who is going to compliment [player: Brock Motum] as a number 2 scorer? Lacey spends a lot of his time behind the three point line and has been a solid threat from deep all year. He is averaging 12 points per contest and keeps defenders honest who want to pack it on Brock down low.
-The Pac 12 as a whole went 111-41 out of conference with 11 of 12 teams having a winning record.
-I have not shown a lot of love for the Utah Utes in these blogs thus far, but they are definitely a team gaining some momentum. Freshman [player: Jordan Loveridge] is leading the way with 13 points per game to go with 7 rebounds and over 2 assists. The 6-6 forward is someone to keep an eye going forward, not only this year but in the upcoming seasons as coach Larry Krystowiak continues the rebuilding process for a struggling program looking to turn the corner.