Checking In On… the Pac-12Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2011
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences.
- More Behavioral Problems – While the struggles of the Pac-12 conference as a whole has been well-documented, the sheer number of off-the-court distractions coaches up and down the conference have had to deal with has been astounding. There’s the ongoing Reeves Nelson soap opera at UCLA. Josiah Turner has been patently unable to get it together in Arizona. Jabari Brown quit on his team after just two games because he was “only” getting about 26 minutes a game. This week Utah suspended Josh Watkins, one of just three players in the Pac-12 to score in double figures in each of his team’s games (Washington’s Terrence Ross and Washington State’s Brock Motum the other two). Then there are lesser lights like Oregon’s Bruce Barron (quit on his team as well), Arizona’s Sidiki Johnson (suspended, dismissed and now transferring out) and Washington State’s D.J. Shelton (suspended). That’s not even including Joshua Smith’s issues, Jerime Anderson’s legal troubles, or Jahii Carson’s inability to get eligible. While the play on the court has been less than stellar around the conference, it is the off-the-court nonsense that is giving the conference the biggest black eye.
- Surprising Players Stepping Up – In the place of all the missing or invisible players, these teams have needed somebody to step up, and there have been some surprising players that are doing their part. Just looking at the five players that were nominated for the Pac-12 Player of the Week last week gives you a list of surprising names: Charlie Enquist, Ahmad Starks, Anthony Brown, Keala King and, the winner of the award, Solomon Hill. No disrespect to any of those guys, but I don’t think you would have found any of those names on most preseason all-Pac-12 teams. Hill has been a versatile and steadying force for Arizona. Not only is the junior post leading the team in points (12.4 PPG), assists (3.1 APG) and minutes (31.5 MPG), but Hill is also grabbing the second most rebounds (7.8 RPG), and he’ll likely be a candidate for the Pac-12 award on a semi-regular basis throughout the year. But Charlie Enquist? That’s a guy who had scored a total of 50 points and grabbed a total of 41 rebounds in his 54 games in his previous three years in Pullman. This week he scored 28 and grabbed 19 rebounds. Meanwhile, King was awful at Arizona State last year (36.5% from the field, 1-18 threes, more turnovers than assists), but has scored 65 points in his last three games while posting a 75.8 eFG%. Starks had 16 points and four threes in Oregon State’s win over Montana, and Anthony Brown scored 27 points in two games for Stanford this week. For the underachieving teams in this conference to improve between now and March, they’ll need players to step up and make bigger-than-expected contributions.
- Stanford For Real? – At the start of the season, it was more or less consensus that there were four teams in the upper tier of the Pac-12: Arizona, Cal, UCLA and Washington. It didn’t take long for one of those four teams to drop from that group (I’ll let you guess which one that was), but with Stanford sporting the best record in the Pac-12 at 8-1 so far (the lone loss a tough six-point defeat at Madison Square Garden to Syracuse), the Cardinal may have jumped up into that group. Of Stanford’s eight victories this season, seven of them have come by 12 or more, with only their most recent come-from-behind win against NC State being a tight one. And at least one RTC correspondent came away from that game impressed enough to confirm that Stanford is good enough, at least defensively, to contend for the conference title. The Cardinal are now in the midst of 13 days off surrounding finals, and really only have one challenging non-conference game remaining (December 22 against Butler). But, if the Cardinal can pick up where it left off, coach Johnny Dawkins‘ squad will be a tough out during conference play.
Player of the Year Watch
Last year at this stage, Arizona’s Derrick Williams was averaging 20 points and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes a night, had turned in a 27/8 performance against Kansas and was hitting 67.1% of his shots from the field and 80% of his shots from three, which clearly established himself as the frontrunner for Player of the Year honors.
This season, much like the race for conference title, the POTY race is wide open. Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham remains the leading scorer in the conference (19.9 PPG) and he also leads the Pac-12 in swipes (2.9 SPG), and so long as the Beavers keep up their early winning ways, he figures to be in the mix throughout the season. Solomon Hill just nabbed this week’s POTW award and has gone from an all-glue guy for the Wildcats to a player capable of filling up the stat sheet. Allen Crabbe was among the early favorites for this title, and though he went through a bit of a quiet stretch in the opening-season two-game stretch in Kansas City, the sophomore shooting guard has scored 58 points and grabbed 25 rebounds in Cal’s last three games. Washington’s Terrence Ross (16.6 PPG/7.0 RPG) has scored in double figures in every game this season and has been a major factor on the glass, while his teammate C.J. Wilcox has rounded out his repertoire enough to keep defenders from sitting on his perimeter jumper. Stanford’s Aaron Bright has impressed with the cool-and-collected way he runs the Cardinal’s offense, while forward Josh Owens has been a rock for Johnny Dawkins. Meanwhile, Colorado may not be a contender for the conference title, but dynamic sophomore Andre Roberson is certainly a contender from the title of most athletic player. Roberson (9.7 PPG/12 RPG) may wind up averaging a double-double at the end of the year. Then there’s Maurice Jones, Trent Lockett, Devon Collier and even Brock Motum. Like I said, wide open.
Newcomer of the Year Watch
While nobody has really grabbed a hold of the reins, Stanford’s Chasson Randle has gone a long way in recent weeks towards giving himself the lead. Since Stanford’s impressive showing in New York City, Randle has averaged almost 30 minutes, 13.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest while shooting 63.2% from three. His biggest threat for the award may come from Arizona’s Nick Johnson, who has taken control of a starting spot in Tucson and may wind up being Sean Miller’s go-to scorer as the season progresses. He’s averaged 10.8 points a night so far, but that number may rise through the winter. Colorado’s Carlon Brown is the leading scorer in the conference among newcomers, averaging 14.3 points (to go with 4.3 RPG and 2.4 APG), while Cal’s Justin Cobbs has made a strong push, now averaging 11.8 points and 4.3 assists per contest while taking over the point guard duties in Berkeley.
Cal and Washington dropped games this week to mid-majors, and as a result, dropped a bit in our power rankings, allowing Stanford to take over sole possession of the #1 spot, while Oregon State moved into the #2 spot. Both Stanford and Oregon State still have their doubters, but for now, the Cardinal and Beavers have consistently performed on the highest level to earn the spots at the top of the Pac-12.
Not only did Stanford claim the #1 spot in our power rankings, they also took home our Team of the Week honors by going 3-0. Solomon Hill nailed down Player of the Week honors by doing a little bit of everything, while Colorado freshman Spencer Dinwiddie had the two best games of his young career on his way to Newcomer of the Week honors.
Game of the Week
It may not have been the result that Pac-12 fans would have hoped for, but Colorado’s visit to Colorado State was a hard-fought and tight game from start to finish featuring a wild ending. Jump ahead to the 2:15 mark in the video to check out the last 20 or so crazy seconds of a great in-state rivalry game that ended in Fort Collins’ very own RTC, despite the attempted heroics of Colorado’s Nate Tomlinson.