Those coveted early-round conference tournament byes

The Pac-12 Conference canceled its games postponed for Covid, evidently. possibly to Washington State’s (and also Utah’s) chagrin. Entering this weekend’s play, the Cougars are in 4th place with an 8-5 record, which confers a priceless first-round bye in the conference tournament.

I think I’m with many people who don’t like the notion of post-season conference tournaments, for at least four reasons:

1) A conference tournament diminishes the value of finishing on top of the league by providing a second pass into the NCAA tournament;

2) A conference tournament reduces the number of days available for in-conference play. The leagues with 12 could probably arrange a complete double round-robin if not for the tournament;

3) A conference tournament dilutes the dramatic tension of the NCAA tournament by introducing three or four additional rounds of single elimination play;

4) Not every booster has the time and money to plan for two post-season tournament trips. The conference tournaments must be lucrative for people who don’t care about families, alumni, media, and so on.

It’s a combination of 1) and 3) above that causes most of the headaches. How many teams march through the regular season but slip once in the conference tournament — perhaps in a “one bid” conference!?

To give incentive to win the regular season title, conference officials structure their post-season tournaments so league leaders receive one or two byes into later rounds. This has a weird effect of synonymizing “league champion” with “grantee of early tournament bye(s)”, which somehow lessens the league champion title even further. Coaches don’t talk about “winning the conference”, they talk about “earning byes”. (Oh, consider 4) above when the league confers multiple byes — are folks supposed to plan to attend the first round, or wait to see where their teams wind up … and risk losing any discounts on travel.)

Take the Pac-12 Conference, where four teams earn a first-round bye. Three teams — Utah, UCLA, Arizona St. — are in the middle of the pack at .500 (or one game above .500), all within reach of Washington St. in 4th place with an 8-5 record.

Utah is behind WSU at 6-5, two games back in the win column, but one game back in terms of “games behind”. Let’s say WSU splits its last four games (vs. the Arizonans, and at the Northern Californians), while Utah goes 3-1 (at Southern Californians, vs. the Oregonians).

That would land WSU at 10-7, and Utah at 9-6. They’re tied in “games behind”, but Utah is ahead by 12/100ths in winning percentage, .600 to .588. I imagine the Cougar family must then grin and bear the way the Covid ball bounced. (On the bright side, as the tournament’s 5th seed, WSU’s likeliest opponent at #12 is Washington, fueling the interstate rivalry with an elimination game.)

Then there’s Arizona St. The Sun Devils have played just nine games, and if they win four against the Washingtons and SoCals, they land on 8-5. That’s *also* tied with 10-7 and 9-6 in “games behind”, but the .615 win percentage places them ahead of WSU and UU.

Utah splits a pair on the Stanford/Berkeley road trip

Utah’s visit to the Bay Area last weekend included Stanford, where the national champions spent three days preparing for them, and Cal, where the Golden Bears sought to avenge a loss to the other mountain region team Colorado.

Stanford 91 Utah 64

“Stanford played extremely well; they were on point tonight”, said Utah coach Roberts.

The Internet suffers from “bookism”, when content generators use a verb other than “said” to mark dialogue, affecting the tone of the quote.

I could report that another way, and it’s like putting it in a blender. “Stanford played extremely well; they were on point”, Roberts proclaimed. “Stanford played extremely well; they were on point tonight”, Roberts emphasized. The reader gets a difference sense of the quote whenever the reporter used a verb besides “said”.

Sportswriters they think they have to find a more colorful way of saying “beat” or “defeated” whenever they report a score. In a wire report, it might go: “Six Cardinal scored in double figures Friday, and host Stanford beat Utah 91-64. Elsewhere on the Internet, you could find: “Six Cardinal scored in double figures Friday, and host Stanford smashed Utah 91-64. ‘Stanford played extremely well; they were on point’, Utah coach Lynne Roberts yawped.”

That sort of purple prose is Internet-standard, but what I’m’ getting to is that it wouldn’t have been so far out in this instance. Stanford has been playing statement games — without looking past their opponents in the most competitive Pacific-12 (Coach VanDerveer said Stanford spent three days preparing for Utah, according to Roberts), the Cardinal appear to be shifting into a higher gear.

Stanford was most impressive defensively against Utah. The Utes are built for dribble-handoff motion, with agile forwards plus a bunch of guards who slash, share, and score. Utah was disrupted to the tune of 20 turnovers (8 assists), and if the perimeter defense was breached, Cameron Brink blocked six shots in 22 minutes. “Their rotations were there, and they gave us nothing easy”, Roberts said.

I think Stanford might’ve given the official score fits. Almost every Utah rebound was contested; when a Ute appeared to grab a rebound, before a Cardinal took the ball away, how to score that, a Utah rebound and Stanford steal or a Stanford rebound?

Stanford’s ball pressure was persistent, and their offense balanced. Again, six Cardinal scored in double figures (Hannah Jump scored nine; it’s a reasonable wager on her finishing with a number of points divisible by three), and four with “Hollinger back-of-the-envelope ratings” greater than 8.6, with which freshman guard Gianna Kneepkens led Utah.

Stanford No.PlayerGameScore

The number that struck me in Utah’s boxscore was 10-for-11 free throw shooting by sophomore post Peyton McFarland, whose free throw form occasionally hiccups at her waist.

Freshman Jenna Johnson left the Stanford game early, and didn’t play at all in Berkeley. The Utes need her, the recipient of two conference freshman of the week awards.

Utah No.PlayerGameScore

Utah 80, Cal 75 OT

In the late 1950s, Cal had a quarterback named Joe Kapp, who led the Golden Bears to their first Rose Bowl. Following an NFL/CFL career, Kapp returned to Cal as head coach in 1982, and was named the Pac-10 coach of the year.

Bay Area football fans still remember 1982 as the year of The Play, when Cal won The Big Game against archrival Stanford with a last-second kickoff return that included six laterals and a Stanford band member trampled in the end zone. (I was playing chess. A friend could be heard in the middle of the room bursting into a cheer, shedding his transistor radio, and announcing to the room that Cal won The Big Game on a freak play. Incredible breach of chess etiquette, but he was a Cal grad.)

All coaching stints come to an end, and when Kapp started losing, he began each post-game press conference with: “The Bear will not quit. The Bear will not die.”

That is Cal athletics.

Cal women’s basketball has had a couple of rough years. Injuries, transfers, Covid, you name it. But they’re Cal, never quit, never die. When Utah visited the 1-5 Golden Bears last Sunday, Cal forced three turnovers while running off to an 11-0 lead, which stood up as a 22-11 lead after one quarter.

Utah scored the first 19 points of the second. Senior guard Dru Gylten made three assists during the run, and ended the day as the fifth player in school history to deal 1000 assists.

The visitors led 53-48 at the end of three, but three turnovers to start the 4th led to six points and a 54-43 lead for Cal.

Utah has a problem with fourth quarters. In 11 conference games, the Utes’ points-after-turnover differential in quarters 1-3 is -11. In the fourth quarter, the differential is -58. In other words: on balance, Utah loses about seven points per game to turnovers, six of which at end of game.

The lead changed hands three times until regulation ended with the scored tied at 68.

In overtime, Cal’s star freshman Jayda Curry — winner of five conference freshman of the week awards, Curry missed most of the first half for two fouls in the first four minutes — scored their first five points to give the Golden Bears a 73-70 lead with 2:15 remaining. However, Utah’s star freshman Gianna Kneepkens scored seven points and pulled two rebounds in the last 1:26.

Kneepkens had career highs in points (21) and rebounds (9), and on Monday won her fifth freshman of the week award.

Sophomore Kennady McQueen scored 18 for Utah, 16 of which came while they trailed or with the score tied. The other two came while Utah led by one.

Cal No.PlayerGameScore
24Lutje Schipholt,Evelien13.4
Utah No.PlayerGameScore