Evaluating Pac-12 Hoops News

USC's hire of Andy Enfield as their new men's basketball coach was one of several landscape changing developments in Pac-12 hoops lately. - Victor Decolongon

Both of the media-centric men's basketball programs in the Pac-12 replaced their head coaches in the last 10 days, and the ripples will be felt for some time around the conference. It's unusual when both USC and UCLA replace their coach in any sport at the same time, as one or the other usually controls the balance of power in town. To have upheaval in both signals potential opportunity for the rest of the conference, but can also portend tough times to come if the Trojans and Bruins make a good choice, given the talent that will listen if the recruiting message is credible.

UCLA moved first, hiring Steve Alford away from New Mexico, almost immediately after he signed an lengthy extension, the product of winning 3 Mt. West Championships in 4 years.

Numerous Bruin fans and media, the delusional ones who though at some point the likes of Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, or Billy Donovan, would do anything more than take the phone call, and then say 'Thanks, but no thanks', decried the hire, but the reality is UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero got about as good a hire as he realistically had any chance to land.

Alford won't bring the high-excitement brand of basketball many UCLA fans think they want; his Lobo teams were never that type, and he is an Indiana system product. Hoosiers don't do that.

What they do do, however, is play reasonably sound basketball, shooting well and defending. And I'd expect the Bruins will do something not seen in the latter days of Ben Howland, characterized by the likes of Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith, Tyler Lamb, and Shabazz Muhammad; play team basketball.

Whether Alford can glue together the pieces to make a final 4 run remains to be seen, but the competition for a first day bye in the Pac-12 Tournament didn't get any easier.

USC followed suit shortly thereafter by hiring Andy Enfield away from Florida Gulf Coast University. Trojan Athletic Director Pat Haden, like myself, and most people in the country, never mind around the Pac-12, never heard of Enfield until his team's unexpected run to the NCAA Sweet 16.

There's greater uncertainty about how successful Enfield, whose' head coaching experience is rather limited, will be, but there's also reason to believe he could be highly successful, or at the very least, lead USC back to basketball relevance.

The athletic style that his high-flying Eagles teams played with will appeal to recruits that are hard to attract to some Pac-12 locales, but certainly not to LA. As such, Hayden may have done as well as he could have too.

The Bruins' hire soon directly impacted Oregon St. as well. As we tweeted Saturday night, Oregon St. assistant David Grace has joined Alford's staff in Westwood. Grace was under consideration for Enfield's staff as well.

Grace's departure creates an immediate opportunity, as well as need, for Oregon St. head coach Craig Robinson to make a move that could turn out to be critical to his future. From recruiting to in-game adjustments, Robinson has come in for criticism after the Beavers stumbled into a losing season for the second time in three years, and the need for a complimentary assistant that's strong in areas Robinson has had some struggles in was already a topic of conversation.

Who Robinson selects will prove as interesting as anything that has happened around the basketball team in some time.

It will also be interesting to see where Bob Cantu lands. Cantu, the USC assistant that transcended multiple head coaching changes, and took over as the Trojans' interim coach after Kevin O'Neal was fired mid-season, isn't being retained, but has established a track record that could translate to a strong asset to some program, and a challenge to others in the area.

The coaching changes almost got lost in the national media storm that broke out when it came out that Ed Rush, the Pac-12 Head of Basketball Officials, had put out a bounty for any conference referee that assessed Arizona coach Sean Miller a technical foul in the Conference tournament.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott had to do some fancy talking to try to sell the notion that Rush's repeated statements were not only a joke, but were understood to be one by conference officials.

Neither turned out to be true, and Rush resigned under pressure shortly thereafter, but the damage was already done. What Scott does next, in hiring a replacement for Rush, matters most though.

Scott, grasping the problem that Pac-12 officiating has been for some time, has taken steps intended to address the issue. He hired retired next-level officials to oversee both the football and men's basketball officiating programs. What Scott apparently did not grasp is the cultural differences between the NFL and NBA's historic officiating personas and the world that is the NCAA.

Division in the ranks between college lifers and NBA wanna-bees that saw the Pac-12 as a stopover on the way up created friction and destroyed communication. Politics within a football officiating community that was suddenly seeing more upheaval than had been experienced in a generation has created a lot of "situations" there as well.

The hiring of Rush strained credibility to begin with, and this past week's exposure puts the conference's officials in an almost untenable position going forward.

Scott will need to consider his course of action more carefully; an attention diverting event like what happened at Rutgers, where Coach Mike Rice, an assistant of his, and ultimately his Athletic Director all became unemployed, not so much because of the pattern of ridiculous behavior Rice once engaged in, but because the run of poor judgement came out into the public view, may not always be a news cycle away. Or worse, it could be coming from a campus near by.

In any event though, interesting days are ahead in Pac-12 hoops.

And not just on the men's side.

Almost totally lost in the hub-bub was the run to the NCAA Women's Final Four of California, NOT Stanford, under second year coach Lindsay Gottlieb, before the Bears lost to Louisville (no not the men's team that beat Oregon on their way to the National Championship game, their women's team, which features the Schimmel sisters, a pair of Oregonians that somehow eluded local programs that could desperately use some actual crunch-time offense), and the run to the WNIT Title game by Utah.

The competition is getting deeper on the women's side of the conference as well. Not that California hasn't been a force for some time, but Gottlieb has taken the Bears quickly to new heights. Catch them if you can.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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