Friday, January 28, 2005
West Coast love
Since there are no major games usually played on Friday, every Friday I'll try to look at an issue around the country.
This week lets look at left coast for some basketball knowledge. "California knows how to party", but can they win come tournament time? The PAC 10 is the conference that gets all the attention as the major West Coast conference and a lot of people think that the PAC 10 is perennially weak. The last couple of years the PAC 10 has struggled in the tournament, but as recent as 2001, 3 PAC 10 teams were in the Elite 8. So just like any conference the PAC 10 goes through cycles, but while the PAC 10 is a major player, the smaller conferences have provided their share of good teams. Last year's cinderella, Nevada, was from the WAC. Cinderella no more, Gonzaga, is from the West Coast Conference. This year's team that can make some noise? Look no further than Pacific. No not the Ocean, the school that beat Providence in the 1st round last year. They played Kansas tough early in the year and bring back two key players in Christian Maraker and Guillaume Yango. Yango can jump out of the gym and Maraker does everything for them. The Tigers have won 11 in a row and are undefeated in the Big West. Come tourney time they could make some noise. But who are the contending teams in the West? Lets take a look.
1.Arizona- Every year the PAC 10 is talked about in the tournament, they talk about two teams, Stanford and Arizona. Since Stanford is struggling, Arizona is the pick. After struggling at the beginning of the season the Wildcats have picked it up, especially Salim Stoudamire. Stoudamire has been the best shooter in the country this season, shooting a mind boggling 56 percent from 3-point range. They are still a young team with only two seniors, but the talent is undeniable. Channing Frye, Hassan Adams and Mustafa Shakur are all good basketball players. The only question is whether they can put together 6 quality games. They go through periods of falling asleep at the wheel. But I've been very impressed with Arizona the last month of the season. Will be picked by a lot of people for the Final Four.
2. Washington - They play basketball at Washington? Yes they do and they play it very well. One of the teams in the country going with a 3 guard attack and they have a very good one with Brandon Roy, Tre Simmons and Nate Robinson. Roy is just getting back to speed after an injury and Robinson is the real deal. Washington can score with anyone in the country, but the main concern for them is that they are small. And I mean small. Nobody on the roster is over 6'9 and come tourney time they are going to face teams that will tower over them. Arizona went inside to beat them and the Huskies become 3 dependent. They shot over 30 threes against Arizona. We know how those teams do in the tournament. Washington has beaten Oklahoma, Alabama and NC State so we know the Huskies are for real. An outside shot at the Final Four.
3. Gonzaga - Last year affirmed Gonzaga will not be waiting for midnight to strike anymore. Gonzaga has one of the most balanced teams in all the country with Ronny Turiaf and JP Batista inside and Adam Morrison and Derek Ravio on the outside. Morrison is drawing comparisons to Larry Bird, but I think we need to slow that down a little bit. Morrison is their do everything guy. He can drive and he can pull up. Gonzaga, in true Zag fashion, have 3 huge wins against Georgia Tech, Washington and Oklahoma State. The rap on Gonzaga is whether they can play enough defense to win games in the tourney. Turiaf goes throught stretches where he looks horrible on the offensive end and in the tournament its hard to overcome a truly bad night by a star player. The Zags have gone through that before with Blake Stepp. The Zags seem to play better when underdogs, but no one's taking them lightly anymore. Sweet 16 bound, maybe Elite 8.
4. Utah - No, Rick Majerus isnt there. No, Keith Van Horn didnt come back. And no laughing please. The Utes are playing some of the nation's best basketball. 2 of their 3 losses are to Washington and Arizona. They've won 12 in a row by an average of 19.7 points. They are running through the Mountain West and the Mountain West would have had a huge upset in last year's tourney with BYU, if Gerry Macnamara hadnt saved SU. The Utes also have the best big man in the country with Andrew Bogut. Who's Andrew Bogut? He only averages 20 points and 12 rebounds including two games where he had at least 24 points and 15 rebounds and shoots at least 65 percent from the floor. Utah could be looking at a 5 or 6 seed in the tourney if not a little higher and if they get that they will be dangerous. Tough out in the second round.
4 teams from the West all with a chance for deep tourney runs, I wouldnt be surprised to see Washington, Arizona, and Gonzaga in the Elite 8. West Coast Basketball- alive and well.