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The First Week of Pac-12 Play

What We Learned from the First Week of Pac-12 Play

Cuonzo Martin didn't need long to prove he was the right hire.
Cuonzo Martin didn't need long to prove he was the right hire.
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

We're a week into the college basketball season and some teams have actually played challenging opponents. It's still early, but here are a few observations from the week that was...

Cuonzo's Already Paying Off

Life is nice for Cuonzo Martin right now. He left a place where he was unwanted, despite a Sweet Sixteen appearance, to come to a team filled with plenty of talent that might have underachieved last year. And his team just annihilated Syracuse 73-59 in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. Maybe the Orange aren't as great as they have been in years past, but Cal still put on a clinic. They broke the zone effectively and consistently and thrived using the high-low. They exploited Syracuse with exceptional ball movement and finished the game with 22 assists on 26 made field goals.

At times, there wasn't even a zone to break because the aggressive defense led to breakouts in transition. Jabari Bird, Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews shot the lights out and combined for 48 points. Sam Singer swung the ball around and ended up with eight assists and David Kravish had 12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. It's fun to overreact early in the year, but Cal looks outstanding and Cuonzo has his team playing excellent on both sides of the ball.

Utah's Austrian Surprise

There was reason to be skeptical about Jakob Poeltl after he had 18 points and 10 rebounds against an obviously underwhelming Ball St. team. But his performance against San Diego St. has me onboard the bandwagon. He finished with a pedestrian four points and seven rebounds, but stood out with seven blocks and certainly held his own in the paint. Just watching him, it's easy to see that he moves very well for a big, is great in the pick-and-roll and is comfortable with his back to the basket. For a team that was playing Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen at center last season, Poeltl is quite the upgrade. He might be the reason Utah separates itself from rest of the pack and controls the second spot in the Pac-12. Most importantly, Bill Walton is a fan.

Just Keep Shooting

7-of-23 from the field. That was Joseph Young in Oregon's 83-66 win over Detroit. He was 0-for-7 from the field in the first half and then started hitting some shots as the Ducks pulled away in the second half. Although Dillon Brooks and Jalil Abdul-Bassit have shown some promise as secondary scorers, the offense is going to have to revolve around Young taking and making shots. His 36 percent usage rate is already in the top 10 of players in power conferences and in the top 65 of the nation. How much higher is it going to get? Don't stop shootin' Joe.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Doesn't Care

He's had a signature dunk in each game this season and if you can dunk over everyone, why do you need to be able to shoot the ball? Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 16 points per game, which leads the team in scoring, and is the main reason, along with Stanley Johnson, that Arizona's athleticism won't be matched by many teams. And the defense and size the Cats have will continue to dominate almost everything in their path. That 67 percent from the free-throw line and 33 percent from three, however, might need some improvement.

The Big Efficiency

Josh Scott is going to quietly get to the free-throw line, score in the post, shoot from the outside and rebound. There is absolutely nothing flashy about him, but he is one of the most efficient players in the country and it's hard to find one weakness in his game. So far, Scott is 12-17 from the field, 13-15 from the free-throw line and is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds. It's early, but don't expect Scott to stop being one of the best and efficient big men in college basketball.

Rebuilding Is Taking Its Sweet Time

USC is a mess. They lost their home opener to Portland State and their win over Tennessee Tech didn't instill much confidence. And the latest disappointment was their 66-46 loss to Akron on Thursday night. They shot 28 percent from the field, 16 percent from three and committed 16 turnovers. The Trojans are now averaging 19 turnovers per game and although expectations definitely weren't sky high coming into the season, they haven't really looked anywhere near competent on either side of the ball. Andy Enfield is going to need time, but if the Trojans continue on this path, conference play might be a very sad time for USC.

A couple notes from Full-Court Friday...

I was at the Pac-12 Studios for a little bit of last Friday to watch all the action unfold from the control room. It was the first time the Pac-12 broadcasted that many games on their networks at the same time, and talking to the people there, it's likely that a day like that will happen again. And for future NCAA Tournament games, there's a chance that they could use a roundtable featuring Pac-12 coaches to watch and comment on the game, similar to what ESPN did with the BCS Title game last year.