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Originally published Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 8:31 PM

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Pac-12 coaches on hot seat early

When the 2011-12 Pac-12 basketball season finished, the people who were still paying attention noticed it was a tranquil year for the league's...

Seattle Times college basketball reporter

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When the 2011-12 Pac-12 basketball season finished, the people who were still paying attention noticed it was a tranquil year for the league's coaches: Nobody got fired. And as bad as the season was, you couldn't fire the league.

Not so this year. Perhaps a record number of guys at the end of the bench faced disenchanted fan bases and impatient athletic directors. As many as six coaches had reason for concern, and one of them, Kevin O'Neill, already has time on his hands, given the boot Monday by USC athletic director Pat Haden, although there are still suspicions Haden misdialed and hit "Kevin" rather than "Kiffin."

Another of the suspect, UCLA's Ben Howland, still seems to show up on hot-seat lists, but the Bruins (14-3) haven't lost since Dec. 1. The extravagant talent Howland and Co. put together this year has jelled, and UCLA is No. 24 this week. Howland still bears scrutiny for the attrition in the program, but Josh Smith's departure was weight-related, and guard Tyler Lamb got squeezed by all the uber-freshmen. Color Howland safe, at least until he retrenches and orders the games played in the 40s again.

At Arizona State, Herb Sendek seems to have played himself off the bubble with a team that's 14-3 and has improved dramatically from last year's 10-21 outfit. Sendek is still as bland as a rice casserole, but the Sun Devils average 12 points more than 2012 and are the early surprise.

That leaves three other precincts where the wolves are baying:

Oregon State

Coach: Craig Robinson. Record: 74-77 (5 years). Pac-12 record: 27-48.

Synopsis: Last time the Beavers went to the NCAA tournament (1990), Mike Krzyzewski hadn't won an NCAA title yet. Last time they had so much as a .500 league record? Try 1993. Robinson's teams haven't defended well, and they're at .419, last in the league.

When I asked on Tuesday's Pac-12 conference call what he would say to long-suffering OSU fans, Robinson replied, "First, the proverbial 'be patient.' Which is kind of unfair, given how long they've waited. They've been patient enough. Secondly, don't give up on this season; there's still a lot of basketball to play ... I'd also remind everybody that this team was set up not only to have Angus Brandt and Daniel Gomis, who are out with injuries, but Jared Cunningham."

Brandt and Gomis, out for the year, have left Robinson without two 6-10 players. Cunningham split a year early for the NBA. But that will happen.

Stanford

Coach: Johnny Dawkins. Record: 85-66 (5 years). Pac-12 record: 31-45.

Synopsis: Unlike Robinson, Dawkins comes up short against his recent predecessors, Mike Montgomery and Trent Johnson, and it's not a pretty comparison; combined, those two went to 13 of the previous 14 NCAA tournaments when Dawkins arrived.

His teams are not as formidable up front as those earlier Stanford squads. Then the Cardinal lost 6-6 starter Anthony Brown to a hip injury, and they're shooting a Pac-12 worst .407.

"Brown's injury has hurt us, it's left us scrambling some," says Dawkins. "It's difficult. There are things you can't envision ... we walked into the (season) with probably the No. 1 and 2 three-point percentage shooters (Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright) and they struggled from the start of the season. We've been battling ever since."

It's been bad news for Stanford's once-deafening home-floor advantage. Neither visit by Washington State nor Washington last weekend put 4,500 people in Maples Pavilion's 7,233 seats.

Washington State

Coach: Ken Bone. Record: 66-53 (4 years). Pac-12 record: 22-35.

Synopsis: Bone voiced a wish to run more than his predecessor, Tony Bennett, but these Cougars can't score. They're last in the league at 63.5 points per game — and even Bennett's defensive-minded powers of 2007 and 2008 averaged 66-plus.

"Brock Motum is doing a nice job of scoring," Bone says, "but we need some help."

This is a school that's famously patient and likely will be with Bone, but the fans that aren't restless are absent. You have to go back two seasons to find a crowd of 5,300 for a Pac-12 game in Pullman other than Washington, and three nonleague games this season failed to draw 2,700.


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