Checking In On… the Pac-12 ConferencePosted by AMurawa on December 22nd, 2011
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.
- Non-Conference Play Winding Down – Can you believe we’re a week away from the start of the conference season? Tonight there are eight games involving Pac-12 teams (highlighted by Kansas at USC and Butler at Stanford), there are another couple tomorrow night (Richmond at UCLA and California at UNLV), a throwaway game next Wednesday (New Orleans at Colorado), and then we’re into conference play next Thursday with the Southern California schools traveling to the Bay Area and the Oregon schools heading to the Washington schools. There are a couple of unappealing non-conference games jammed into the middle of the Pac-12 schedule (literally, a couple: Seattle at Washington on January 10 and UCLA at St. John’s on February 18), but that’s it. No more non-conference games for the Pac-12 to boost its resume.
- What’s Up With Washington? – Coming into the season, the Huskies were considered one of four teams in a bunch at the top of the conference, each with a relatively equal chance to win the regular season title. Since that time, however, UCLA has dropped clean out of the discussion, and with Washington’s 19-point loss on Sunday night to South Dakota State dropping them to .500 on the year, Lorenzo Romar’s team is right there with the Bruins in having earned its share of doubters. Aside from neutral-site losses to top 15 teams Duke and Marquette, the Huskies had previously also dropped road games at Saint Louis and at Nevada. But the home blowout to Nate Wolters and the Jackrabbits was a whole new, entirely unexpected low. While the Huskies have had their share of troubles on the road in recent years under Romar, a home loss to a team the caliber of South Dakota State is unprecedented.
- Arizona State, USC, Utah – Not only has the Pac-12 been bad this year, (19-7 since we last did that, with losses to South Dakota State and Northern Arizona mixed in there), they’ve been entirely unpredictable. For example, after Arizona State knocked off North Dakota State on a buzzer-beater two Saturday’s ago, they lost two straight games, victims of buzzer-beaters on both occasions. Then last night, they were spared the indignity of a third straight buzzer-beater loss only because the game winning three-pointer, this time from Fresno State’s Kevin Olekaibe, came with 30 seconds left. For USC, they allowed one of the worst shooting teams in Division I, Georgia, to shoot over 60% against them on Saturday, very much an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence for any team facing the tough Trojan defense. SC came back on Monday night to score 83 points against TCU, this after scoring over 60 only three times in regulation prior to that outburst. Then there’s Utah, who last week at this time were 0-8 against Division I opponents. Since then, they’ve won both their games and appear to at least be making some progress.
Player of the Year Watch
- Tony Wroten has burst onto the scene in a big way in Seattle in recent weeks. He’s averaged over 24 points per game in the Huskies past three games and has only once on the season failed to score in double figures – against Florida Atlantic more than a month ago in just his second collegiate game. His game is still very much a work in progress, but he is an exciting scorer capable of greatness, should he buy into the team concept a bit more. In order to truly contend for POTY honors, he’ll need to play for a contending team
- Down in Tucson, the Wildcats are more or less going as junior forward Solomon Hill goes. In recent weeks, Hill had sub-par games against Florida and Gonzaga (a combined 11 points on two-of-14 shooting and 13 rebounds) in Arizona losses. But in every other game since November 13, he has scored in double figures. He leads his team in points, rebounds and assists, and is a steadying presence for the young squad. But, in order for him to contend for a POTY award, he’ll need to do a better job of producing in big games.
- Up in Berkeley, Allen Crabbe has been smoking hot for the last seven games. After a lull early in the season in which he shot just six-of-29 over the course of three consecutive games, Crabbe has scored 15 or more in every game since Thanksgiving, averaging 18.3 points per game over that span. With the Golden Bears still the favorite to win the conference title, he’s the slight favorite in the POTY race at this point.
- Also remaining in the running: Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham and USC’s Maurice Jones, with none of these players so far ahead of the rest of the pack that other candidates, like Stanford’s Aaron Bright, Washington’s Terrence Ross or C.J. Wilcox, Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez, or any number of other players, could not jump right back into the conversation with a good week or two.
Newcomer of the Year Watch
Just when we thought it was safe to whittle the list of contenders here down to three or four (Tony Wroten, Chasson Randle, Nick Johnson and likely Devoe Joseph), Cal’s Justin Cobbs had to go and have a career game and muddy things up a bit more. Now, one hyper-efficient performance doesn’t vault him to the top by any means, but he’s been solid all year long (12 points, 4.4 assists per game) and at least is on the radar here. But realistically, this is Wroten’s award to lose.
Stanford’s in our #1 spot for the fourth straight week – who woulda guessed that? Meanwhile, UCLA is the big climber this week, jumping up from eleventh to ninth spot – and who woulda ever guessed that the Bruins jumping to ninth in the conference would be a significant improvement. But, let’s be honest. It is all still a jumble. Aside from the fact that Utah and Arizona State are really bad, would anybody really be shocked if any of the other ten teams was in serious contention for the conference title come the middle of February?
This week was an Oregon State kind of week, as the Beavers won the Pac-12 Team of the Week honors for the second time, and Roberto Nelson was given the Player of the Week award, although honestly, it could have just as easily been Ahmad Starks or Angus Brandt taking that one down. Meanwhile, Wroten took home the Newcomer of the Week award for the second straight week.
Plays of the Week
To wrap this up in Oregon State style, I’ve got a couple different clips from their win over Howard last Thursday. First, we’ve got Jared Cunningham throwing down this spectacular two-handed reverse dunk off the alley-oop:
Then we’ve got Cunningham on the passing end of an alley-oop, here leaving a great pass for teammate Devon Collier to throw down on the fast break