— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) March 13, 2013
LAS VEGAS — Random analysis of the Pac-12 while wondering if Nike CEO/Oregon high-profile booster Phil Knight will spend as much time in the high-roller areas of the MGM Grand as he will at the arena. Also, this city is known for a famous pack, the Rat Pack. Will the Pac-12 and its fans add to the luster of the town? …
Team That Can Come Out of Nowhere:
Watch out for Stanford, which has three very capable players in power forward Dwight Powell, wing Josh Huestis and point guard Chasson Randle. The Cardinal know how to win in the postseason, taking the NIT crown last season. They finished 9-9 in the Pac-12 but four of those losses were by five points or less and they swept Cal. Stanford opens the Pac-12 tournament against ASU at noon today.
Team Flaming Out:
USC lost four of its last six games after going on a four-game winning streak, including a victory over regular-season champ UCLA. The Trojans have also lost top player Dewayne Dedmon, starting 7-foot center, because of disciplinary reasons. USC is only a shadow of the team that swept Arizona and ASU at home only two weeks ago. Utah, at the bottom of the conference most of the season, can realistically win its third consecutive game tonight by beating the Trojans after starting 3-13 in conference play.
Top Three Players to Watch:
1. Andre Roberson, forward, Colorado. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year missed last weekend’s games against the Oregon schools because of a viral illness. He is cleared to play and has practiced with the Buffaloes in Las Vegas.
2. C.J. Wilcox, guard, Washington. Wilcox disappeared after emerging as one of the league’s best players in the first couple of weeks of the Pac-12 season. If he can find his shooting stroke, starting against Washington State tonight, the Huskies can provide Oregon a challenge if they get past the Cougars.
3. Mark Lyons, guard, Arizona. Although Lyons is in his first and only season with the Wildcats after playing with Xavier, he has played more games (seven) in the NCAA tournament than anybody on the UA’s roster. Experience counts for something, although in those seven games, he averaged only 6 points and 2.6 assists per game. The time is now for Lyons to roar (pardon the pun).
Players on the Rise:
Royce Woolridge, guard, Washington State — The Phoenix product has improved from a productivity rating of .393 in the first half of the conference season to .529, the largest leap among the league starters. Woolridge, a sophomore transfer from Kansas, averaged only 10.2 points per game in the first nine Pac-12 games. He averaged 17.3 in the last nine, including the most points scored by a conference player this season — 36 in an overtime loss to Oregon.
Justin Cobbs, guard, California — Cobbs is right behind Woolridge for the most dramatic improvement over the second half of the season. He went from a productivity rating of .429 in the first half of the conference season to .559. His emergence coincided with Cal’s impressive run in the last two months of the season. He failed to score in double figures three times in the first nine Pac-12 games but was all double figures in the last nine. He shot 35.8 percent from the field in the first half and 50 percent in the second.
Spencer Dinwiddie, wing, Colorado — After the midway point of the Pac-12 season, Dinwiddie has played his best games in wins over Arizona, Stanford and Oregon. His productivity rating has improved from .607 to .673 in that time frame. This site’s productivity rating is productivity points divided by minutes played. Productivity points are positive stats (made field goals and free throws, assists, rebounds, scoring) subtracted by negative stats (missed field goals and free throws, turnovers and personal fouls).
Jordan Adams, guard, UCLA — Adams has a notable supporter in Arizona coach Sean Miller and the numbers prove what Miller is talking about. Adams’ productivity rating improved from .513 at the midway point of the league season to .589 currently. In the last five games, Adams has a remarkable 18 steals. He also has three games with at least 20 points (against Stanford, USC and ASU) in the last month after not breaking the 20-point barrier in the first half of the season.
Eric Moreland, forward, Oregon State — Moreland is a significant reason why the Beavers went from only one win in the first half of the conference season to three in the second half. His productivity rating improved from .487 to .557 in that time frame. Moreland missed three games against ASU, Arizona and UCLA because of disciplinary reasons in January. In the last half of the Pac-12 season, Moreland had rebounding efforts of 15 against Utah and 14 against Cal and Washington State.
Players In Need of Breakout:
Nick Johnson, guard, Arizona — Johnson’s productivity rating dipped from .614 at the midway point of the Pac-12 season to .507 currently. He showed signs of life against ASU in the regular-season finale with 17 points, his highest total in the last 13 games since he scored 23 points against UCLA on Jan. 24. Normally a stout defender, Johnson had only three steals in a four-game stretch before tallying three against the Sun Devils last Saturday.
Jordan Bachynski, center, ASU — He had one of the most dominating performances against UCLA with 22 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots on Jan. 26. His highest rebounding total since is only seven against Washington State and in the rematch with UCLA. He was basically a non-factor in six of ASU’s last 11 games after that spectacular first game against the Bruins.
John Gage, forward, Stanford — He was clearly the best sixth man of the league at the midway point of the conference season. In the first nine Pac-12 games, Gage made 68 percent (17 of 25) of his three-point attempts. In the last half of the conference season, Gage shot only 34.4 percent (10 of 29) from beyond the arc. He went through one stretch against USC and UCLA at home missing all eight of his three-point attempts.
Players Returning to Las Vegas:
Shabazz Muhammad, wing, UCLA — The standout from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School returns home. He led all high school seniors by averaging 29.4 points per game. He also recorded 10.1 rebounds per game as a senior (2011-12), leading Bishop Gorman to a 28-4 record and the 2012 Nevada 4A State Championship.
Johnson, Arizona — Starred at Las Vegas suburb Henderson at Findlay Prep, a national powerhouse. He averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game as a senior, leading his team to a 28-4 record. He ranked as the No. 40 overall prospect in the country and the No. 8 shooting guard by Rivals.com to go with a grade of 96 out of 100 by ESPN.com. Johnson attended Highland High School in Gilbert for two years before transferring to Findlay Prep prior to his junior year.
Brandon Ashley, forward, Arizona — Ashley came to Findlay the season after Johnson left for Arizona. He averaged 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game as a senior. He helped Findlay to a 32-1 record and ESPN NHSI national championship. He posted 31 points, including 13-of-14 from the free-throw line, in the championship game, an 86-83 overtime win over Montverde. He became a 2012 Parade magazine All-American and McDonald’s All-American.
Johnathan Loyd, guard, Oregon — Also hails from Bishop Gorman. He led Bishop Gorman High School to 102 wins in four seasons, culminating in 2010. He was named 2009-10 Class 4A Boys Basketball Player of the Year according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. He guided Bishop Gorman to a 30-2 record and a second consecutive Class 4A state championship as a senior.
Ben Carter, forward, Oregon — A one-time Arizona recruiting target, Carter was a teammate of Muhammad’s at Bishop Gorman. He averaged 10.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game as a senior but was sidelined most of the year with a knee injury. Aside from Arizona, Carter was also recruited by USC, UNLV, San Diego State, Utah and New Mexico.
Rosco Allen, forward, Stanford — Another Bishop Gorman product, he was also recruited by Miller. He was listed as the No. 16-ranked small forward, No. 66 player overall and a four-star recruit in ESPNU’s 100 national ranking. As a senior last season, Allen averaged 14.1 points, 7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner