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Pac-12 Hoops Roundup: Who's Up & Down Plus the Rise of Paris Austin

February 3, 2020
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Another week, another round of surprising results in the 2019-2020 Pac-12 men’s hoops season. Let’s start at the top. Oregon (18-5, 7-3) came into the week with an opportunity to further expand its lead in the conference standings with a trip to the Bay. Despite just squeaking by our Bears, the Ducks looked poised to head back north with a sweep.

No dice.

Stanford was likely to be the tougher of the two opponents facing Oregon but the Cardinal was also on a three-game losing streak that included losses to Cal and Oregon State. Oscar da Silva went off for 27 points and 15 rebounds and Furd downed the Ducks 70-60.

Surely one of the trailing teams battling in Los Angeles over the weekend would take advantage, right? Right?! Again, no dice. Colorado (17-5, 6-3) came down from its Rocky Mountain High to lay an egg at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday, losing 72-68 to a resurgent UCLA team. Meanwhile, USC (17-5, 6-3) got past its first test, barely downing Utah, 56-52. So it was USC’s chance to move into first place in the conference. Instead, Tyler Bey and the Buffs took out their Pauley frustrations on the Trojans, winning 78-57 at the Galen Center.

Now we have a continued logjam in the Pac-12 standings. Besides Oregon, USC, and Colorado at the top three positions, there’s Arizona and Stanford lurking at 5-3 with a surprising UCLA at 5-4.

Trending up

Speaking of UCLA, the Bruins have quietly ticked off two straight wins and have won four of its last five to move above .500 in Pac-12 play. It’s one loss over the past five games was at Oregon. The Bruins have a huge trip to Arizona this weekend. If UCLA can split, it’d be huge for Mick Cronin and his upstart Bruins.

Arizona has also won four of its last five including a weekend sweep of the Washington schools last weekend. The Wildcats’ schedule sets up for them to make a run if they can take advantage. First, Arizona has two very winnable games against UCLA and USC this weekend and then take its Bay Area trip to face Cal and Stanford — two more winnable games. Arizona is still the conference’s highest-ranked team in KenPom’s metrics at No. 11.

Trending down

Washington. Wow. Did anyone actually expect Washington to be at 2-8 and last in the conference at this point in the season? The Huskies have lost five-straight and this season is officially a lost one for UW. I’ve been a big fan of the Mike Hopkins hire and it’s obviously very tough when you lose the starting point guard and catalyst of the offense. But the Huskies have still underperformed in conference play.

Remember when Oregon State was 2-2 in the conference with wins over Arizona and Colorado? Since then the Beavers have gone 1-5 in conference with its lone win being another headscratcher at Stanford. In a season with weird and wild results across all of college hoops, the Beavers might be the most extreme. Since conference play has started, Oregon State has beat teams ranked No. 36, No. 17, and No. 11 in KenPom’s standings. And it's lost to every team its played ranked No. 50 or higher. Oregon State has essentially done everything it can to break the KenPom models and projections.

NCAA Tourney Hopefuls

The Pac-12 continues to solidly be a five-team NCAA Tourney conference according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Stanford did itself a lot of favors with its win over Oregon but still sits close to the edge for an at-large bid.

  • Oregon (four-seed in the West)
  • Colorado (six-seed in the West)
  • Arizona (six-seed in the Midwest)
  • USC (nine-seed in the South)
  • Stanford (ten-seed in the South)

The Rise of Paris Austin

Heading into conference play, lack of production at the point guard position was an issue for the Cal Bears. And while it hasn’t totally been resolved, Paris Austin’s improved play has helped lift the Bears to its surprising 4-4 start in Pac-12 play. Since conference play began, Austin has scored in double-digits in five out of eight games — more than any other player besides Matt Bradley.

Austin has improved in virtually every statistical category since conference play. His offensive rating in conference play is 103.1, which is much higher than his overall season offensive rating of 88.3 and is his highest since donning a Cal uniform. Austin’s eFG% is up to 41.3% in Pac-12 play compared to 39.9% overall on the season and his true shooting rate is 49.5% in conference play compared to 47.8% overall on the season. Meanwhile, his assist rate has gone up from 18.4% on the season to 20.5% in conference play. But perhaps the most important statistical improvement? His turnover rate is 22.6% on the season but just 11.3% in conference-only games.

The fifth-year senior from Oakland just looks better as well. Before conference play he often got beat by opponents he was guarding and was largely unable to drive around them and create his own plays off the dribble. But that has looked largely different, especially as of late. Despite how horrible the UCLA game was offensively for the Bears, in the first half, Austin drove past his opponent with ease repeatedly until the Bruins made halftime adjustments. 

Two final points. First, to keep winning, Cal needs one or (preferably) two players to step up along with Bradley each game. There have to be two to three players around the seven to 12 Game Score range for Cal to be at its best and Austin consistently being one of those players raises Cal’s floor.

Speaking of floor, that’s the second point. Hiring Mark Fox was going to raise the floor of this program, but so far, that’s happened a lot quicker than many likely expected. The question about Fox has always been the ceiling. That question might not be answered for a few years or more, but gutsy wins against Washington, Stanford, and Oregon State were wins Cal hasn’t been getting the past couple years. 

And now the Bears have a chance to stay at .500 in conference while earning its first win away from Berkeley. Beating Colorado is likely a long-shot, but winning at Utah is very much a possibility. 

Discussion from...

Pac-12 Hoops Roundup: Who's Up & Down Plus the Rise of Paris Austin

1,733 Views | 5 Replies | Last: 7 mo ago by bearister
bearister
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Well written article. I really enjoyed it!
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calgo430
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if we beat utah on the road i become a believer. the pac 12 is crazy this year.
CALiforniALUM
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I think WA is going to ruin somebody's Pac-12 tournament. They have that profile of a team that will flick a switch when it is seeming too late for themselves and knock a few teams out of the Pac-12 tournament, or worse yet win the thing for an automatic bid, yet ruining the party for some non-Pac12 bubble team.
caltagjohnson
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Pac 12 is a mediocre conference. Doubt anyone makes the Sweet Sixteen. Pac 12 teams will be out in rounds 1 and 2. Best teams in the west are SDSU, Gonzaga and St.Marys.
bearister
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I would place a wager on a mitten full of West Coast teams to dump the Gaels.
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