Checking In On.. the Pac-12Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2011
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences.
- Tournament Trip-Ups – The early season exempt tournaments are always an exciting time of the year in college basketball. Teams from conferences across the land get a chance to meet, usually on a neutral floor, and play several games against quality competition in a relatively short span, giving coaches a chance to figure out exactly what to make of their new collection of players and giving fans a chance to get introduced to their new teams. For the Pac-12 schools, this season’s batch of early season tournaments was largely a bust. You know when the two best results for the conference in these tournaments were Oregon State’s two-point loss to Vanderbilt in the finals of the Legends Classic and Stanford’s six-point loss to Syracuse in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off, that things didn’t exactly go as planned. And the less we speak about the last place finishes of Utah and Washington State in the Old Spice Classic and the 76 Classic, the better.
- Oregon’s Growing Pains – Last week, the bombshell out of Eugene was that five-star freshman guard Jabari Brown was leaving Dana Altman’s program after just two games. Then news broke Tuesday night that fellow freshman guard Bruce Barron was also leaving the program – this time after just five games, only three of which Barron played in (seven minutes per game). Those two defections make for six players that have left the Oregon program since Altman’s arrival. Certainly the first four of those transfers make sense, as many coaching changes result in roster changes, but Brown and Barron were Altman recruits, and guys who were getting playing time. The fact that Brown and Barron were close friends does provide something of an explanation for Barron’s decision, though. If there is any good news in this shakeup for Oregon, both players are continuing with their classes at the school for this semester, meaning their defections could have no negative impact on the team’s APR.
- Injuries – The Pac-12 probably hasn’t had any more injuries than any other conference this season, but they have had their share of important ones. USC lost senior point guard Jio Fontan to a torn ACL prior to the season, had freshman center Curtis Washington saw his season end with a torn labrum, and just last week saw sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon go down with a stress fracture in his foot that will keep him out for four to six weeks. Utah is missing 7’3” center David Foster, who broke a foot in the Utes’ exhibition game, and he is still deciding whether he’ll return this season or take a medical redshirt. And Washington is still waiting to find out about senior guard Scott Suggs who broke a toe prior to the season. Suggs hopes to begin practicing this week with a possible return December 10 against Duke.
Player of the Year Watch
Last week, Jared Cunningham was coming off consecutive games in which he had set a new career-high for himself, and combined with his defensive prowess, he was the POTY frontrunner. Now, he’s coming off two-straight more modest performances scoring-wise (10.5 PPG), but remains the Pac-12’s leading scorer with 20.8 points per game. The next three spots on the conference scoring list are manned by Utah’s Josh Watkins (18.8 PPG), Arizona State’s Trent Lockett (17.5 PPG) and Washington State’s Faisal Aden (17.0 PPG), good players all, but guys who likely won’t have an impact on the POTY race, simply because they play for bad teams.
The next two spots on the list are taken by OSU’s Devon Collier and C.J. Wilcox. Collier was our choice for Pac-12 Player of the Week, and he has been arguably the most consistently strong player all season. He’s scored in double figures every game, has never shot below 50% from the field in a game (he’s shooting 67.9% field goals on the year) and he’s every bit as strong a defensive player as the more widely celebrated Cunningham. He could stand to do a better job on the glass (just 4.5 rebounds per night), but it seems pretty clear that he’s for real. Wilcox hasn’t been quite as consistent as Collier (he, like most of the rest of his team, laid an egg against Saint Louis), but he’s hitting 55.2% of his threes and averaging 16.2 points per night while showing a more well-rounded game than he’s displayed in the past. He came into this season with the reputation of “just a shooter” but as his minutes have nearly doubled, his rebounding, assist, block and steal numbers have all more than doubled as well. Wilcox may have trouble earning strong POTY consideration, however, since he will get plenty of competition from even fellow teammates like Terrence Ross (15.8 PPG/7.0 RPG) and Tony Wroten, as he develops.
Elsewhere around the conference, Stanford’s Aaron Bright has made quite a name for himself in grasping the Cardinal’s point guard spot. Bright has been solid all year, averaging 12.1 points per game, running the Stanford offense smoothly and knocking down threes at a 53.1% clip. Whether he can continue that rate throughout the season remains to be seen, but with Stanford’s balanced scoring, Bright is likely a longshot POTY contender at best.
Newcomer of the Year Watch
Carlon Brown continues to lead the pack here, averaging 15.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting the ball better than he ever did in his days at Utah. Since Brown is a senior, you likely won’t see his game or his numbers improve much as the season progresses, because he is at or near his ceiling already. At USC, Aaron Fuller (13.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG) is another major college transfer who is more or less a finished product on the floor, but he may see a bump in minutes and production, as his frontcourt mate Dewayne Dedmon suffered a stress fracture this week and will miss several weeks. Not only will Fuller have an opportunity to take on a larger role, the Trojans will need him to do so.
Then there are the freshman guards, guys like Nick Johnson, Chasson Randle and Tony Wroten who still clearly have their best days ahead of them and are already playing pretty well. Johnson has been a major contributor in Arizona since day one, but on Tuesday night he got the first start of his Wildcat career, and it is unlikely he’ll ever be out of the starting lineup again. Johnson had 19 points on 8-14 shooting in that game (including a couple of spectacular dunks), but left the rest of his stat-line empty, save for a couple of assists. Randle got off to a slow start on The Farm, but in Stanford’s last three games he has averaged 14.3 points per contest in 27.6 minutes, knocking down 9 of 13 threes and using his long arms to wreak havoc defensively. And then there’s Wroten, arguably the most anticipated of the Pac-12 freshman guards. He’s got quite a bit of competition for minutes in Seattle and may never earn a starting role this year, but he’s already contributing off the bench, averaging 12.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He’s yet to really get comfortable on the defensive end, however, and he’s had some foul trouble in three of his five games as a Husky, so unless he can clean up that part of his game, he may not earn many more minutes than the 23 per night he’s getting right now.
There’s not a whole lot of shakeup in this week’s Pac-12 power rankings, as the top four teams in last week’s rankings are the top four this week again, but Stanford did bump up a little bit, moving from second-place last week to a tie for first with their Bay Area rival California this week, on the strength of the Cardinal’s strong runner-up showing in New York last week. And at the bottom of the poll, Utah has solidified its position as the worst team in the conference. In fact, I voted them 13th this week.
In the last two weeks we’ve had two different Beavers take home our Pac-12 Player of the Week, with Devon Collier taking it home this time, while Chasson Randle became the third different player to earn Newcomer of the Week honors. And, with Stanford getting the Team of the Week mention, all three of our awards this season have gone to different candidates each week.
Although the conference as a whole got a bit of a breather to start this week, things pick up quite a bit this weekend, as on Saturday USC will travel to Minnesota, Oregon will visit BYU and UCLA will host Texas at the Sports Arena, three games in which the Pac-12 team will almost certainly not be favored to win. On Sunday, Cal visits San Diego State while Stanford hosts North Carolina State, but at least in both of these games, the Bay Area schools should be slight favorites. And then on Tuesday, Washington begins its toughest stretch of its non-conference schedule with two games in five days in Madison Square Garden. Marquette is the opponent Tuesday night as part of the Jimmy V Classic, while Duke is the competition on Saturday. In the Huskies’ lone game against stout competition thus far this year, they were blown out at Saint Louis. They’ll need to show vast improvement over that performance to have any chance of returning home from the east coast with a win to show for their troubles.