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One of the most annoying things about the Pac-12 basketball tournament is the recalcitrance of Fox Sports Net (TV distributors who own the majority of the tournament) to play it anywhere outside of Staples Center. Unfortunately, it's becoming a bit of an embarrassment for the conference. Staples Center rarely sells out, is stunningly empty for most of the tournament (save maybe the title game, when it's half-full). There's a lot of problems, mainly that the majority of the tournament takes place on a weekday afternoon/Friday night in traffic-challenged LA. Of all the arenas on the West Coast to watch a basketball game, Staples is by far the least commuter friendly.
However, now that the Pac-12 owns the tournament, Commissioner Larry Scott is at least open to the idea of relocation, Bob Condotta reports. And there are some worthy sites. The Rose Garden in Portland, Oracle Arena in Oakland, Key Arena in Seattle, U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix, Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City and the Pepsi Center in Denver all are top-notch facilities for a basketball tournament, and at least one of those places should have a conference arena everyone can enjoy. There are definitely places worth exploring, and a rotational model could also work to everyone's advantage.
And if all those fail? There's always Vegas...
Obviously, when it came to negotiating the new Pac-12 TV contract, the primary impetus was going to be on the new football rights. And they seemed to do very well--more nationally televised games on ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU, ABC, FOX, and FX, plus the potential of a Pac-12 network covering up all avenues to distribute all the games and make sure they're all televised in some capacity somewhere.
But what about college basketball? Well, the changes are even more drastic. (HT mattsarz)
While the contract isn't as freakishly awesome as the Pac-12 football TV deal, it's pretty close. Every game being broadcast, with at least half the games gaining a national audience is a big step up from the archaic way FSN handles their business. Pac-12 basketball will finally have a place of its own.
Yes, we're about eleven months away from March Madness 2012. That's not stopping Joe Lunardi from making his very early projections for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, and the Pac-12 is coming out looking even better than recent years, despite all the huge defections.
Arizona Wildcats: Three seed playing New Mexico State. This seems a little high considering the departure of Derrick Williams, but U of A definitely has a strong talent base that has a good shot at going back-to-back next year.
UCLA Bruins: Seventh seed playing Florida State. Not the worst spot for UCLA, although I'd imagine they'll probably perform a lot better considering the frontline talent they come back with next year.
California Golden Bears: Ninth seed playing Clemson. Yuck. Pretty sure the Bears would love to avoid another 8/9 matchup like last year to prolong their chances at survival. Cal also has the potential to exceed these numbers if all the returning players making decent enough leaps in their respective games. But they'd gladly trade places with ...
Washington Huskies: Tenth seed playing West Virginia. This is unusually low, although a lot of talent is leaving--UW might be a perimeter oriented team next season. But I'm sure the Huskies would love a tenth seed.
USC Trojans: Twelfth seed playing UNLV. Questionable, considering a lot of talent is leaving. But hey, we're not going to stop the experts from hopping on the Kevin O'Neill bandwagon.
Klay Thompson of the Washington St. Cougars had to do a lot last season. With most of the rest of his team struggling to be consistent on offense, Thompson had to carry the brunt of the scoring duties and take a majority of the shots. His individual numbers suffered, but he was able to lead Wazzu to the NIT tournament semifinals after a disappointing season.
Well, it looks like Thompson is ready to try out his talents at the next stage, as he declared for the NBA Draft. It's not set in stone that he'll be leaving, because he still hasn't hired an agent. But if he likes what he sees, he will most certainly depart.
Cal and Stanford fans will probably be happy with the news. Thompson nearly single-handedly beat the Bears in Berkeley last spring, and put up 21 points two days later against the Cardinal in Palo Alto. While he doesn't really have much to improve on, imagine a Cougar team that was much improved next year and didn't have to rely as much on Thompson. That would be a scary prospect for any Pac-12 team to deal with.
For more reaction on the Thompson news, head over to Coug Center to hear what Washington State fans have to say.
Add Malcolm Armstead of the Oregon Ducks to a growing list of Pac-12 departures. Armstead wants to return to a place closer to his native home of Alabama for his final season and he has been granted his release, the Eugene Register Guard reports.
This is rough but not damaging news for Oregon, who looked like they were trending upward under Dana Altman. Armstead was one of the best assist-makers and pickpockets in the league, but he was not an offensively efficient player when he was on the floor. However he did give opposing point guards fits this season like Brandon Smith for Cal and Jarrett Mann for Stanford.
The pressure now falls on sophomore Johnathan Loyd and incoming frosh Bruce Barron to man the point. Loyd was not too bad at distributing and stealing the ball himself, so the dropoff might not be as sizable as some people think it could be.
For the Bears and Cardinal, it could mean a big shift and a decent point guard advantage next year. Something to keep your eye on, particularly since Oregon only went 1-3 against the Bay Area schools last year.
For more coverage of the Ducks, head over to Addicted to Quack.
Marcus Simmons of the USC Trojans was the clear defensive player of the year in the Pac-10 in 2010-11, but Malcolm Lee of the UCLA Bruins wasn't too far behind. His length and athletic ability made it difficult on opposing wings to get off cleans looks at the basket
Allen Crabbe knows that firsthand. The Pac-10 freshman of the year had his struggles against Lee. He scored 17 points and shot five for eight in Pauley Pavilion, but most of that production came after Lee had fouled out. In their rematch in Berkeley, Lee did not foul out, and Crabbe never got going, shooting 3 for 11 and finishing with 8 points, but the Bears did prevail in overtime behind Jorge Gutierrez.
With Lee hiring an agent for the 2011 NBA Draft, thus rendering him unable to return to UCLA, Crabbe could become an additional thorn in the side of the Bruins in their future matchups. UCLA is dangerously thin in the frontcourt next season, and Tyler Lamb is the only true slasher returning next season. He might be defensively sound enough to give Crabbe problems, but can he make Crabbe work for it offensively? Or will UCLA have to rely on someone new like De'End Parker?
For reaction on Malcolm Lee, head over to Bruins Nation.
For those who are excited about conference regular season basketball, the departure of one star player means everything. This is precisely what's happened in the Pac-12, as Derrick Williams makes his inevitable move to the pros. Williams was almost certainly going to be a lottery pick this season, and his performance in the NCAA tournament (including a mighty first half performance in the upset of Duke in the Sweet 16) went a long way toward ensuring that status will remain where it is.
He certainly won't be missed by Bay Area teams. Williams averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game against the Stanford Cardinal in an Arizona series sweep. Williams was even more potent against the California Golden Bears. He put up 31 points and 12 rebounds in their first matchup, shooting an incredible 22 free throws to guide the Wildcats to a narrow victory in Tucson, then pulled down 18 boards before fouling out in their triple overtime thriller in Berkeley. The man was not to be trifled with in Pac-10 play.
With Cal's biggest issue being size down low due to the youth of Richard Solomon, Williams's departure is a welcome relief, and gives them one less big body to worry about in the conference. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News believes it makes the conference title a two team race between Cal and UCLA, which might not be too far off from reality. Dwight Powell at Stanford could also benefit.
For more perspective on Williams from Arizona fans, head to Arizona Desert Swarm.
While Pac-12 football begins a long and hopefully prosperous road for the conference, there are some big questions that remain in the second major sport of the conference. A lot of players are departing to the NBA Draft, and no one knows really who could end up winning the conference next season.
Arizona Wildcats: A big hole to fill with the departure of Derrick Williams. Arguably one of the most talented squads in the conference, can they replicate success without him?
Arizona St. Sun Devils: Rebounding from last year's last place finish will be difficult, but Herb Sendek has been pretty good at battling through adversity.
California Golden Bears: Now that Cal has weathered their rebuilding season with their revamped squad, can they find enough strength inside to raise themselves back to the top of the conference?
Colorado Buffaloes: A lot of seniors depart from one of the NCAA bubble teams.
Oregon Ducks: Dana Altman has proven he can coach, but how much can he get out of what's likely to be a young and inexperienced team next season?
Oregon St. Beavers: The rope is getting shorter for Craig Robinson to produce results in Corvallis.
Stanford Cardinal: Johnny Dawkins can definitely recruit, but can he replicate that off-the-court success to winning on it?
Utah Utes: A new coach and an experienced but undertalented squad might mean the doormat in their first year in the Pac-12.
Washington Huskies: UW will still have plenty of talent, but there are a lot of players they're losing from this year's squad.