Pre-tourney look at Pac-12


Pre-tourney look at Pac-12

Well class, we havent had a chance to sit down and talk about Pac-12 basketball in a while, have we? Remember when we said -- back in November -- that the league was down a bit this year?

Guess what? The leagues not down its downright taken root. It's required by the NCAA that the conference tournament winner be selected as a leagues representative to its postseason dance, but beyond that there are no guarantees for anyone -- up to and including the conference champions. And, while I never thought Id see the day that the Pac had just a single representative in the NCAA Tournament, this could possibly be the year.
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To start, the Pac 12s non-conference winning percentage is lower than the cost of a share of stock in a Nevada silver mine. That is to say worthless.

That in itself will drive the selection committee to say, Lets see, shall we take Oregon or Seattle Pacific? Well, Seattle Pacific is a D2 school -- but they beat Arizona. Lets go for them.

Heres a pre-tournament rundown of the Pac 12 -- through jaded eyes.

Mike Montgomery has been masterful in what hes done with this team. They play hard, theyre tough, theyre experienced and theyre one player short. They can win any game. Or lose any game. Pretty much like the rest of the league.

Too many good players, not enough basketballs. Tony Wroten is the freshman of the year, a one-and-done guy, one of the best players in the conference -- and the Huskies would be better off without him. I get the sense that Lorenzo Romar -- one of my favorite guys -- would rather be watching a colonoscopy than what he sees from a talented bunch of players and one really selfish one.

Youthful, athletic, wonderful young men who seem to be in every game and just cant find a way to close the deal. I sometimes get the sense that Johnny Dawkins is asking for volunteers.

This team is big, soft, fat and brings a shot selection that has the coach using all his timeouts in the first 22 minutes of a game. By which time he usually has nothing left to say to his team anyway. Not a staunch group.

Six transfers and an ability to win on the road make the Ducks at least an interesting team to watch. Wouldnt shock me if they won the Pac-12 Tournament. Dana Altman: Coach of the year. Team: A bunch of guys.

Oregon State
This is the most complete team in the conference. Only drawback is that they dont win. I dont get it. The Beavs usually start slow and finish fast. This year, the opposite. They simply should be better than they are.

Two words: Freshman guards. The 'Cats are well coached and talented but wildly inconsistent because of backcourt youth. Also, weaving AAU stars into a college program can be problematic when they feel they already know more than the coach. They dont. Especially in the case of Sean Miller. Next year for the 'Cats.

Unknown, untalked about, and one of the better teams in the league. The Buffs are still learning how to win at sea level but Tad Boyle has done a masterful coaching job with a team picked 11th in the conference.

Washington State
Give it up for coach Ken Bone. He got the most of what he had. Which was very little. It aint easy recruiting to Pullman, Wash. -- unless its very dark out.

Their hopes ended in September in Brazil when Tio Fontan went down with a season-ending injury. Kevin ONeil said he and his assistants sat on a bench on Ipanema Beach drinking Mojitos until dawn. He knew it was going to be bad. It was worse.

Arizona State
No point guard, internal problems, best player down with injury for much of the season, more turnovers per game than people in the stands. Tough year for Herb Sendek.

Worse college basketball team Ive seen in this conference in -- let me think -- ever.

Other than that though, its been a hell of a year in the Pac 12.

Barry Tompkins is a regular contributor to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and Chronicle Live.

Memory of the late Bob Murphy will live on the heads of those who heard him


Memory of the late Bob Murphy will live on the heads of those who heard him

Bob Murphy, who was the voice of Stanford athletics when such titles truly mattered in the Bay Area, died Tuesday after a long fight with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 86.

Murphy was viscerally connected to the university in ways that were once in vogue across the nation but are now reserved only to the Midwest and Southeast. He was a walking ambassador for the school’s athletic history, a familiar face to the army of alums who linked to his voice and presence early and ultimately grew old with him, even when coaches and players and athletic directors came and went with unsettling frequency.

And while his time as the alternate face to Hoover Tower eventually faded, he was still Murph – to be honored and respected by all generations, even the ones who never heard him or saw him. If anyone below the age of 25 asked about him, he was spoken of with the reverence reserved for architectural structures or hundred-year-old trees. He belonged to the place, and the place belonged to him.

He mattered at Stanford, because Stanford is an insular community, watching the world outside with a palpable sense of “Thank God we’re safe in here.” He attended the school, he worked as its sports information director, and he was the radio voice who fought for Stanford when only a few people were listening. He had proven his devotion decades ago, until his devotion became part of the background noise and scenery.

And he didn’t even leave after he became ill, and then absent. Only the most successful coaches and athletes get to attain that omnipresent aura in college athletics, and in truth, Murphy reached more people in the community than any coach or player the school has ever had, simply by being at the place, and of the place, longer and more happily than anyone.

Sometime soon, we suspect, he will be remembered with a statue, either near the football stadium or near Maples Pavilion. He will be bronzed, wearing a polo shirt with the S-with-the-interlocking-tree and glasses wedged against the bridge of his nose. He will be seated, with a desk before him and microphone perched atop it, and there will be a plaque with a Wikipedia-ized list of his contributions.

But without the voice, it will be incomplete. That will have to be recreated inside the heads of those who heard it most often, and cared most what words it carried. It is there where Bob Murphy’s memory will thrive – as someone who defined Stanford in ways that no marketing campaign ever could.

David Shaw is quietly the second-best coach in the Bay Area


David Shaw is quietly the second-best coach in the Bay Area

Steve Kerr has been the standard by which all other coaches have been measured in these parts since he arrived in Oakland – rescued as it was from the nine hells of the New York Knickerbockers. He is indeed so good that he is still getting credit for the 50 wins he actually didn’t fully merit – the 39 that belong to Luke Walton and the 11 that are Mike Brown’s.

But this is not to slag Kerr’s record – which even if you eliminate the 55 games he hasn’t coached in his three years because of his back issue is still the best in NBA history – but to remind you that David Shaw still exists, he still is supervising the golden age of Stanford football, and he is just as unavailable to pro teams as he ever was.

Shaw, whose team opens its season on Saturday night in Australia against Rice, has been beneath the radar since the day he arrived, for no better reasons than (a) the Bay Area doesn’t hold much stock in college football and (b) he likes it that way. His excellence is indisputable, but he is also in the perfect place to do his job without any of the irritants that surround most college coaches – media, embittered alumni, NCAA investigators, the late night call from the cops about your outside linebacker overturning a minivan, that kind of thing.

He has worn down all attempts to question him on his next job because, while he could get one at the snap of a finger, he was not infected with the standard coach’s ambition to see and be seen. He has seen the sport’s many excesses and has decided to ward off the ones that directly touch him.

He still believes in the game’s virtues, and can probably be considered a fairly doctrinaire figure on most issues confronting the sport and its practitioners, but does not have to pretend that he is too focused on the job to be interested in mundane things like eclipses, political turmoil, social justice and all the other noxious things that happen outside the cocoon.

But be not fooled. He likes the cocoon that is Stanford, and he has the sense to understand that the chance of a better job existing is almost infinitesimal. He may someday want something more public and lucrative, but until money and fame get a long winning streak going at his house, he’ll sit quietly, the second-best coach in the Bay Area and the first-best at making you not remember that he is just that.