Hey, everyone! Welcome back to basketball season. This is our weekly check-in to all things basketball, across the entire landscape. If something happens on the hardwood, you’ll hear about it every Monday morning, right here.
THE BIGGEST STORY IN BASKETBALL
The Pac-12 has lived a checkered basketball existence in recent memory. The self-proclaimed “Conference of Champions” hasn’t cut down the nets at season’s end since 1997, a full 20 years ago. In fact, in the past 40 years, the conference has collected just two championships. Things got particularly dark in 2012 when Washington won the conference regular season crown and failed to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, with only two Pac-12 teams reaching the Big Dance that season.
This weekend, the Pac-12 took center stage and officially declared itself back in business, with Arizona beating UCLA in a great game. The conference isn’t as well-rounded top to bottom as the Big XII or the ACC (Oregon State is a living, breath trash disaster and both Washington and Washington State are in dire straights), but the top of the Pac-12 is as competitive, interesting, and exciting as any league in the nation. If one conference is going to have multiple teams in Phoenix for the Final Four, the Pac-12 may be best suited to be that conference.
This was prominently on display during Arizona’s win at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday. The Wildcats are 18-2, with losses to Butler and Gonzaga (on neutral courts) and wins over Michigan State, Texas A&M, Cal, Utah, and now UCLA. Saturday marked the debut of sophomore Allonzo Trier after his “suspension” handed down by the NCAA ended. In 27 minutes of play, the 6’5 shooting guard reminded everyone what he is capable of. Trier tallied 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists, while playing active and effective defense. His presence allowed the hot shooting Kobi Simmons plenty of space to operate and pulled attention from Mr. Mini-Porzingis, freshman phenom Lauri Markkanen. Six Wildcats scored in double-figures with a seventh notching nine points. Arizona was a Final Four caliber team before Trier’s debut. Now? They are among the list of teams with a chance at a championship.
They join the UCLA team they defeated this weekend on that list. One loss at home isn’t the panic button for the Bruins, though their defense effort in the game was a red flag. UCLA sits 123rd in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. UCLA’s opponents, on average, score about 3 points more against the Bruins than other opponents, making UCLA the only team in the top 25 of the RPI whose opponents score more against them than the rest of their schedule. That hasn’t been a death blow for the 19-2 Bruins, since their offense has been scalding hot. They rank in the top 10 nationally in (deep breath) effective FG percentage, 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage, offensive efficiency, assist rate, field goals made, threes made, free throws made, assists, and points per game. UCLA fills it up and dares opponents to do the same. That’s a dangerous game to play in late March, but so is trying outscore these Bruins.
Meanwhile, the only other team to have beaten UCLA received some good news this week. Oregon hasn’t lost a game since November 21st. Remember when the Packers beat the Eagles on Monday Night Football to turn their season around? That happened 3 days after Oregon’s last loss.
The Ducks almost suffered a different kind of loss when Dillon Brooks, the heart and soul of their team, left a game with a lower body injury. In a week that saw the injury bug infest the college basketball landscape, the worst was feared. Oregon has announced Brooks only sprained his foot and will miss a few weeks. He likely misses the Ducks only scheduled showdown with Arizona on February 2 and likely isn’t back with Oregon’s rematch with UCLA on February 9.
As long as he’s back by March, the three headed monster atop the Pac-12 will be a forced to be reckoned with. The league’s champion likely locks up a number one seed, with the other two teams earning a two and three seed. Despite their often late starts, make time to watch each of these three before the brackets are revealed seven weeks from now. Because of bracketing rules, all three can not be placed in the West region, meaning two of these giants will come East and they will come ready. Don’t get caught unaware by the teams from west of the Rockies. Throw your East Coast bias in the trash. The Pac-12 is back.
BASKETBALL IS FUN!
With all of the hot takes and super serious basketball related opinions out there, it’s important to remember that this is a game being played and watched for fun. Every week we’ll highlight something on the lighter side of the hoops world.
The Sixers are hot right now, winning 8 of their last 12. Sixers fans are understandably happy, since the team won only 10 games all season last year. Inspired by Ben Simmons and the fun he has with his pets, Twitter user @GipperGrove started trying to place his cat on his head after Philly wins:
Because Gipper’s cat wasn’t as cooperative, he gave up on the head and shoulders and just started lifting his cat up. During the hot streak, the rest of Sixers Twitter took notice and joined in, creating a full blown movement.
Simmons took notice and even joined in on the fun.
We here at Palestra Back, though we prefer dogs to cats, support this movement. If you have a feline and the Sixers win, please #RaiseTheCat.
All the pieces and posts you need to read to be on the ball.
Palestra Back: Since our last edition of This Week in Hoops, we’ve had a bunch of content here at the PB. I told a family basketball tale, explored Nigel Williams-Goss and his chance to be Player of the Year, whizzed around Philadelphia looking for tournament teams, and checked out some of the biggest changes in college basketball this week.
And PB shirts are still on sale!
Rush the Court: We checked in on the fight for a number one seed.
Speaking of the Sixers, The Ringer’s Ben Detrick took a nice look at their hot streak.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman interviewed golfer Jordan Spieth and his brother, Brown star Stephen Spieth.
May the Tuesday Top Tens rest in pieces. Long live Rank Shots! If you’re not familiar, this is where we rank the best teams in the NBA, college basketball, and another totally irrelevant something.
- Golden State Warriors
- San Antonio Spurs
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Houston Rockets
- Toronto Raptors
- Memphis Grizzlies
- LA Clippers
- OKC Thunder
- Florida State
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
Versions of House Hunters
- House Hunters
- House Hunters: Renovation
- Tiny House Hunters
- Hunting Vintage
- House Hunters: International
Game of the Week
For the past two seasons, I’d list out every single game worth watching in this space. It took me a lot of time and effort to do something you didn’t really need. You can head over to your favorite scores website or app to see every game, but this is the one you’ll have wished you watched:
Kansas at Kentucky, Saturday at 6:15 on ESPN
The fourth annual Big XII-SEC Challenge is here and usually brings a crop of great non-conference games in the midst of league play. This season, the schedule makers must have had a little brain fart because some of the match-ups leave something to be desired. Florida, a top 3 SEC team, plays Oklahoma, likely the second worst team in the Big XII. Baylor, a top 5 team in the country, takes on lowly Ole Miss. I understand the pairings are likely culled from last year’s standings, but Buddy Hield a’int walking through that door. If we’re going to play these games in late January, can’t we use the preseason coaches poll from each conference to set the match-ups?
That being said, there is one special game on the docket, the battle of the perennial powers in each conference, Kentucky and Kansas. Last year’s meeting was a legendary showdown, decided in overtime. This year’s game features fantastic backcourt play on both sides. It gets especially juicy when Kentucky has the ball. Frank Mason may inhabit the short list of players able to stay in front of De’Aaron Fox and Devonte Graham figures to spend his afternoon living inside Malik Monk’s shorts. Kentucky’s bigs should be able to muscle the Jayhawks in the paint and on the glass, but there may not be a Wildcat capable of covering Josh Jackson.
Kentucky has been a part of two of this season’s best games (their bouts with UNC and UCLA) and the UK-KU clash has the hype to join that list. Even better, if this event continues with the same format, we’re likely in line for a whole lot more chances to watch Big Blue and the Rock Chalkers square off in the next decade.
Honorable mention: Clippers-Sixers on Tuesday and Clippers-Warriors on Saturday, Kansas-West Virginia and Virginia-Notre Dame on Monday, and Villanova-Virginia on Sunday
I’m not a gambling man, and wouldn’t recommend you are either, but since this blog began, I’ve been asked for gambling advice just as often as I’ve been asked about my genuine basketball opinion. Even if I don’t have any money in the game, I watch a lot of hoops and might just be able to pick you some winners. (Last week 1-2/ Season 9-13)
Oklahoma State (-4) over TCU: The Pokes have had a brutal start to conference play, losing six of seven. Truth be told, however, they are a better team than that. The Big XII is tough and they lost to good teams. TCU is solid, but Oklahoma State needs the win at home.
Duke (-16) over NC State
Pacers (-5.5) over Knicks
Enjoy the games, folks.
(Note: Every edition of This Week in Hoops will end with a song. I’ve compiled all of these songs into a playlist that you can find here.)
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.