Tag Archives: Pac-12 Conference

Fuel For The Critics


Sean Miller

In eight years as the head basketball coach of the Arizona Wildcats, Sean Miller has compiled a record of 220-66 with four Pac-12 Conference Championships. Six of the last seven years have seen Arizona make the NCAA Tournament as they are one of the premier basketball programs in the nation, but there is one thing has continued to allude both Miller and his Wildcats.

Arizona’s last trip to the Final Four came in 2001 when they were the runner-up to the national champion Duke Blue Devils. Since then Arizona has gone on to remain as a hotbed for future NBA talent, but they’ve been unable to get back to the Final Four.

Former Arizona head basketball coach Lute Olson led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2003 and 2005, but he was denied his sixth trip to the Final Four and fifth with the Cats. After Olson retired in 2007, Arizona’s program took a step back before they lured Miller away from the Xavier Musketeers in 2009.

In five years with Xavier, Miller showed his ability to lead a program as he got the Musketeers to the Elite Eight in 2008. It didn’t take Miller that long to get Arizona back on the national scene as he led them to the Elite Eight in 2011. But heartbreak would await the Cats in the West Regional Final where they fell to the Connecticut Huskies 65-63. After failing to make the NCAA Tournament in 2012, the Wildcats would storm back in 2013. This time Arizona would lose by three points in the Sweet Sixteen to the Ohio State Buckeyes. 2014 and 2015 would each see the Cats make the West Regional Final. But each time Arizona was denied a trip to the Final Four.

This season the Wildcats were projected to once again have a strong team as they began the season ranked tenth in the Associated Press Poll and they lived up to the hype. Arizona went 16-2 in the Pac-12 Conference with their only losses coming against the UCLA Bruins and Oregon Ducks. The Cats would also go on to win the Pac-12 Tournament for the second time in the last three years. The Cats finished the regular season with a record of 30-4 which earned them the second seed in the West Region for the NCAA Tournament. And although that the Gonzaga Bulldogs were the top seed in the region, Arizona was still the favorite to advance to the Final Four.

The Wildcats would easily take care of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in the first round before they survived against the Saint Mary’s Gaels in the second round. And with the West Regional taking place in San Jose, California, the Wildcats were expected to coast over Xavier who was an 11-seed.

With just over two minutes left in the contest, Arizona had a 71-64 lead and they appeared to be set to meet Gonzaga in the West Regional Final. However the Wildcats would not score again while Xavier would as the Musketeers finished the game on a 9-0 run to stun Arizona 73-71. But unlike Arizona’s other stumbles under Miller in the NCAA Tournament, this one stings a little more since this was arguably the Wildcats best path to the Final Four since 2001.

Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen

The Wildcats had a team comprised of future NBA players such as sophomore guard Allonzo Trier and freshman forward Lauri Markkanen leading the way, but they were unable to reach the Final Four which will be played in Glendale, Arizona which is just two hours away from their campus in Tuscon. Now including Miller’s time at Xavier, he is now 0-4 in the Elite Eight, and in spite of the fact that he is one of best coaches in the nation, he cannot shake the fact that a trip to the Final Four is still not on his resume.

However Miller can take solace in knowing that it took some of the game’s best coaches a long time to reach the Final Four and eventually win a championship. Jay Wright became the head basketball coach at Villanova in 2001 and it took him until 2009 to make his first trip to the Final Four. And after years of disappointments in the tourney, Villanova was finally able to break through and win the national championship last year. It took former Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun 13 years to break through and win a national championship as he had previously gone 0-3 in the Elite Eight.

There’s a possibility that Markkanen and Trier could be headed to the NBA Draft, but Miller has done an excellent job of recruiting since he took over in Tuscon. The Wildcats have another solid class coming in next year which includes center DeAndre Ayton as this will once again make Arizona one of the top teams in the nation. The abrupt ending to a stellar season for Arizona will sting, however hope always springs eternal.





As point guard Lonzo Ball was tearing up the high school basketball scene in the State of California, he could have attended any basketball powerhouse that he chose to. As a high school senior, Ball took home numerous accolades which included him being a McDonald’s All-American, the State of California’s Mr. Basketball, and the Naismith Prep Player of the Year as he averaged 23.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. Ball would ultimately decided to put his basketball skills to use for the UCLA Bruins which has been beneficial for all parties involved. As a freshman, Ball is averaging 15 points and 6.3 rebounds, while his 7.6 assists per contest are leading the nation, and he is a big reason why UCLA is once again in the national spotlight.

When the Bruins went 15-17 last year for their first losing season since 2010, there were some followers of the UCLA program that wanted head basketball coach Steve Alford fired to the point that a banner was flown around the campus seeking his removal. But as UCLA decided to stick with Alford, he went out on a limb to give back a portion of his salary for this college basketball season. And with a star studded freshmen class that includes Ball, Alford is once again the man of the hour in Westwood.

The Bruins are currently 27-3 which is good for third place in the Pac-12 Conference. The Bruins are the third ranked team in the Associated Press and they’ve held their own this season against the best the college basketball has to offer. In non-conference play, UCLA was able to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats of the Southeastern Conference who were the top ranked team in the nation at the time. And after their first meetings against the Oregon Ducks and Arizona Wildcats respectively, the Bruins were able to avenge each loss the second time around with Ball having a hand in all of it.

Ball’s first collegiate game came on November 11 against the Pacific Tigers and he messed around and almost got himself a triple-double as he finished with 19 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds. In UCLA’s first game against Arizona, Ball had 24 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds. And in the rematch with Oregon which resulted in a UCLA victory, Ball had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Ball hasn’t been asked to consistently carry the Bruins due to he fact that he plays alongside freshman forward T.J. Leaf and senior guard Bryce Alford, but don’t sleep on his potential at the next level.

At the very worst Ball will be selected third overall in the upcoming NBA Draft as at 6’6″, he is tremendous ball handler with court vision that a franchise can build around. But in the interim, Ball is making the most of his time in college as UCLA could still win the Pac-12 Title, while they are also seeking their first trip to the Final Four since 2008. And with the calendar ready to shift to March, I expect Ball to add to his resume when the bright lights of the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments are on him.



What To Watch For In The 2016-2017 College Football Playoff


Let the games begin.


In Clay We Trust


Clay Helton

For USC Trojans head football coach Clay Helton he has had many twists and turns on the road to get to where he currently is. For two decades Helton honed his craft as an assistant coach before he finally got a chance to lead a program. Last year saw Helton named as USC’s interim head football coach after the school had fired Steve Sarkisian. Helton was expected to simply keep the seat warm at ‘SC until the school was able to find a head coach with a big reputation for winning the would return them to prominence. But in Helton’s first seven games, the Trojans went 5-2 which included USC knocking off their crosstown rival in the UCLA Bruins to win the Pac-12 South Title which propelled them to their first appearance in the conference’s title game. USC’s sudden surge would see the school’s former athletic director Pat Haden remove the interim tag from Helton’s title. But after the Trojans lost the Pac-12 Championship Game to the Stanford Cardinal, along with losing the Holiday Bowl to the Wisconsin Badgers, some people were skeptical about Haden’s move to hire Helton on a full-time basis.

This year would see Haden replaced by another former USC alum in Lynn Swann which might have left Helton on shaky ground. And if the ground under Helton wasn’t solid, it got less firm after ‘SC began this college football season with a record of 1-3. But those three losses weren’t to the little sisters of the poor as the Trojans fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide, Stanford Cardinal, and Utah Utes who combined to go 30-7 this season.

However after the slow start, things would begin to click for USC as they reeled off an eight-game winning streak which saw them fall one victory short of winning the Pac-12 South for the second consecutive year. And after the Colorado Buffaloes were throttled by the Washington Huskies this past Friday night in the Pac-12 Title Game, the Trojans moved ahead of them in the College Football Playoff rankings. The win by the Huskies means that they’ll be heading to Atlanta, Georgia to face the Alabama in the Peach Bowl which is one of the national semifinals for the College Football Playoff as that left the Rose Bowl without the services of the Pac-12 Champion on New Year’s Day. But guess who was more than happy to fill the void?

USC has been selected to appear in the Rose Bowl as they will make the short journey from Heritage Hall in Los Angeles to Pasadena as both cities are only separated by 20 miles. The Trojans will take on the Big Ten Conference Champions in the Penn State Nittany Lions as the Rose Bowl committee will get the traditional Pac-12-Big Ten meeting that they covet. This will be the 34th appearance in the Rose Bowl Game for the Men of Troy, and it marks their first appearance in Pasadena on New Year’s Day since 2009 which was also a meeting against Penn State. But that appearance in the Rose Bowl marked the end of an era for the Trojans as head football coach Pete Carroll would only stay around for only one more season before becoming the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League, while ‘SC was left to deal with sanctions that were levied on their program by the NCAA which included a reduction in scholarships and a two-year bowl ban.

This set the Trojans program back immensely as since then they’ve gone through four different head football coaches which has included two different stints with Helton serving as an interim head football coach. And although that everyone wasn’t on board with Helton at first, he is the right guy for USC.

When I think of USC hiring Helton, the one college football program that comes to mind are the Clemson Tigers. During the 2008 college football season, Clemson decided to fire head football coach Tommy Bowden after the team’s 3-3 start. Bowden would be replaced by assistant coach Dabo Swinney on an interim basis. Swinney would go 4-3 for the remainder of the season, and as his players were ready to run through a wall for him, Clemson decided to remove the interim tag from Swinney’s title and make him the full-time head football coach. Swinney would reward the school’s trust in him as he was able to lead the Tigers to the Atlantic Coast Conference Title Game in 2009 for the first time in school history. Since then Clemson has won no fewer than 10 games in a season under Swinney as they’ve become a national power which has included three ACC Championships, three trips to the Orange Bowl, and an appearance in the national championship game this past January. Under Swinney, Clemson is 87-28, and although that he wasn’t a big named head coach at the time of his hiring, he was the right guy for the job.

So now Helton has the attention of everyone that supports the USC program in the Greater Los Angeles area as he has accomplished something that is on the bucket list of every head football coach upon taking over the Trojans which is to get them to the Rose Bowl. And on New Year’s Day, Helton will lead the Trojans from the visitor’s locker room at the Rose Bowl Stadium where maroon and gold will be on full display in the stands as well as the sidelines where you can expect some of the school’s most famous football alums such as Marcus Allen and Keyshawn Johnson to be in attendance.

Along with getting ‘SC to the Rose Bowl, Helton now has to ability to win the fierce recruiting war in Southern California for the top football talent in the region as he has shown that he can defeat UCLA on the gridiron, while also preventing the top-tier talent from heading north to programs such as Washington and the Oregon Ducks.

Sam Darnold

Helton has a freshman quarterback to work with in Sam Darnold who has come on strong after replacing Max Browne after USC’s early season struggles. Darnold threw 28 touchdown passes this season, while he was instrumental in USC handing Washington their only loss of the season as he was 23-of-33 passing in the contest for 287 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Darnold will have his chance to show his stuff with the eyes of the nation focused on him on New Year’s Day as his name will definitely be thrown around next year in regards to being the Pac-12 Conference’s Player of the Year.

Along with Darnold, the Trojans do have some National Football League talent on their roster that includes the likes of defensive back Adoree’ Jackson who can do it all which includes returning kicks, catching passes, and making dazzling interceptions which should help to make next month’s Rose Bowl a very exciting contest.

It has taken some time after the NCAA sanctions on USC for them to get the ball rolling, but everything finally appears to be coming full circle for the Men of Troy with an unlikely maestro leading the way. But credit to Helton for seizing the moment as he is indeed the right guy for USC.

Source: Sports-reference.com


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