Checking In On… the Pac-12 ConferencePosted by AMurawa on January 26th, 2012
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.
Parity abounds in the Pac-12. After four weeks of conference play, no less than five teams sit within a game of first place. Last weekend California had a chance to snatch the outright lead in the conference for themselves on Saturday night after pulling off a big road win against Washington on Thursday, but they were shot down in Pullman by Pac-12 Player of the Week Faisal Aden and his Washington State team. Oregon, meanwhile, put together a home sweep of the Los Angeles schools, has now won four straight and is tied atop the conference with the Golden Bears at 6-2. Sitting just back of the leaders are Colorado (off a 2-0 weekend against the Arizona schools) and Washington (split against the Bay Area schools), while Stanford drops back to fifth in the conference after getting swept in Washington.
Outside of the top five, you could make arguments for any of the next four teams getting hot and making a run. Arizona sits at 4-3, but is one of just three conference teams with at least two road wins in the first four weeks. Washington State is 3-4, but they’re on a two-game streak and Aden’s outburst has Cougar fans hoping for a turnaround. UCLA also sits at 3-4, but their road trips to Oregon and the Bay Area are in the past. And Oregon State got off to a terrible start in conference play, but they’ve now won two straight, and if they can make a splash in their next three games (all road games against Oregon, Colorado and Utah), they’ve got five of their last seven at home.
The rest of the conference is looking ahead to spring break and next season. USC, in particular, sits at 0-7 in the conference, 5-15 on the year and all but left for dead, while Arizona State and Utah, despite similar overall records and a similar lack of talent, are at least overachieving.
What to Watch For
The biggest games of the weekend come on Sunday this week, with a couple of late afternoon rivalry games. Oregon State heads to Oregon hoping to break the Ducks’ two-game winning streak in the series and get their mojo back. After that, we’ve got the game we’ve all been waiting for, the basketball version of The Big Game, as California hosts Stanford in an attempt to hang on to their hold on first place in the conference. It has been exceedingly tough for road teams to come away with victories thus far this season (the home team is 33-11 in conference play), and despite the proximity of these two pairs of rivals to each other, it has been difficult for the road team to come away with a win (home teams are 28-12 in these two rivalry games in the past ten years), meaning we could expect to see Oregon and Cal still atop the conference standings come Monday morning.
Elsewhere this weekend, Colorado will need to earn its first Pac-12 road wins in order to remain in the conversation near the top of the league; they’ve got a eminently winnable game against USC on Thursday night followed by a tougher game at UCLA Saturday. Meanwhile, the Washington schools turn snowbird, as they head to the desert this weekend for matchups with the Arizona schools. The undermanned Sun Devils may seem like easy pickings, but they’ve split their only two conference home games so far, while the Wildcats figure to be a little ornery this weekend, after losing a tough one to Colorado last Saturday.
Player of the Year Watch
Let’s just go ahead and say it; much like the other aspects of the Pac-12 conference this season, the race for Player of the Year is just an absolute mess. Tony Wroten is the apparent favorite right now, mostly because his traditional numbers look good. He’s second in the conference in both points and steals (16.8 and 2.0, respectively), tenth in assists with 3.3 dimes per night, and he throws in a solid 4.5 rebounds per night. And those are all good numbers in a down year in the conference, but the fact remains that there is still some discussion over whether Wroten is either a positive or a negative force for his own team. You see, if you dig a bit deeper, you see some disturbing stats: 19% three-point shooting, yet a continued insistence on hoisting a couple attempts per game; more than four turnovers per game and turnovers on 23.4% of his possessions; a great ability to get to the line (he draws more than seven fouls per 40 minutes, good for 13th in the nation), but an inability to hit his free throws when he gets there (54.9 FT%); and most damning of all, an offensive efficiency rating of 94.9 (this worst rating of any Husky getting more than seven minutes per game) compounded by his use of 33.2% of all Husky possessions and his taking of 28.2% of their shots when he’s in the game. There are certainly plenty of things that Wroten does well, but one cannot abide the idea of a conference POY candidate with those types of numbers.
So, if not Wroten, who else?
Terrence Ross has been excellent for the Huskies all year long, scoring in double figures in all but one game while adding 6.5 rebounds per night, the only player in the conference in the top 10 in both scoring and rebounding. But he’s not even the go-to guy on his own team. Jared Cunningham is leading the conference in scoring and steals and still manages to hand out three assists per night, but his team is a couple games below .500 in conference play – he’ll need to get his team on the right track in order to be a serious candidate. Jorge Gutierrez is the heart and soul of a team that is currently in first place in the conference, he’s averaging solid offensive numbers (14.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.5 APG) and is an even better defensive player, but you just figure in a major conference, there’s got to be somebody more skilled who is worthy of the POY award.
But, looking up and down the rosters, you just don’t find anybody. Guys like Devoe Joseph, E.J. Singler and Garrett Sim are having nice years for conference-leader Oregon, but they’re the essence of a team – no one player stands out there. Stanford is much the same way. For now, Wroten is the guy who will most likely win the award, but there is still hope that basketball writers up and down the conference will figure out that he’s got some serious holes in his game that go a long way towards eclipsing his positives. The pick from here, right now at least, is Gutierrez, but it is still wide open.
Newcomer of the Year Watch
Aside from Wroten, who will certainly be in this conversation, the strongest potential candidates are transfers, guys like Colorado’s Carlon Brown or Oregon’s Devoe Joseph. Freshmen like CU’s Spencer Dinwiddie and Stanford’s Chasson Randle are also in the mix, but this is certainly Wroten’s race to lose. And, really, despite his negatives, he brings enough to the table to warrant his spot at the top of this list.
After seven consecutive weeks at the top of our power rankings, Stanford’s two losses in Washington this weekend finally sent them plunging, all the way to third, while California regained the top spot, a position it held for the first three weeks of the season. Oregon is now second in our ratings, the highest spot it has seen this year. And, for just the second time all year, Utah is not our lowest ranked team, as USC has gone out of their way to earn 12th place.
Our weekly honors are a good way to sum up the parity in the conference. With Faisal Aden taking down the Player of the Week honors, we now have had 11 different players win the recognition in 11 weeks. Aden’s Washington State team earned our Team of the Week honors for their second time this season, and eight teams have won the award so far this year – amazingly California is not among them. Our Newcomer of the Week award went to Tony Wroten again this week, the fourth time he has won the award in the past seven weeks. CU’s Carlon Brown is the only other player who has won the award more than once.
YouTube of the Week
The scene from the seats at Beasley Coliseum as DaVonte Lacy drills a three to put Washington State up late, and they hold on from there, dodging a couple last-ditch opportunities from the Golden Bears.