Checking In On… the Pac-12 ConferencePosted by AMurawa on February 2nd, 2012
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.
- We’re at the halfway mark of the season this week, and we could be on the verge of finally seeing some separation in the league. Through nine games, California and Washington sit atop the conference standings, a game ahead of Oregon and Colorado, who are sitting a game ahead of Arizona, Stanford and UCLA.
- However, while their first-place conference standing is a good thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Cal and Washington are in particularly good shape when it comes to NCAA Tournament consideration. Cal is in pretty good shape with an overall record of 17-5 and an RPI of 30, but they still have against their case that pesky little strike that they haven’t beaten anybody of note (they’re 0-3 against teams that are in the top 50 in the RPI).
- For Washington, the numbers are even worse; their RPI is #71 and they’re 0-4 against top 50 RPI teams. In fact, going down the list, the whole conference is just 3-37 against top 50 RPI teams, with two of those wins coming when Oregon State and Washington State knocked off Cal.
- So, really, in order for the Pac-12 to deserve multiple at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, they need Cal and Washington to separate themselves from the rest of the Pac. Cal simply isn’t going to be able to wind up with a win against a top-50 RPI team, because they have to play a bunch of Pac-12 teams that aren’t in the top 50. And because of the new unbalanced schedule in the conference, Washington doesn’t get a crack at the Bears in Berkeley, meaning their only chance at earning a win against a top-50 team would come only if they faced Cal in the conference tournament, or if somehow Oregon (currently ranked #69) would string together enough wins to bump up inside the top 50.
- In short, the picture is pretty grim for the Pac-12. It seems that the Pac-12 is going to have to rely on their historical reputation, a factor that is not supposed to be considered by the NCAA Selection Committee but one that most assuredly is, rather than their bona fides if they hope to send multiple teams dancing. Maybe the best case scenario for fans of the conference is Cal and Washington to string together multiple victories, separate themselves from the crowd, and advance to at least the semis in the conference tournament, and then see another squad take down the title in a mild upset. That’s the only scenario I can see whereby the conference gets more than two teams in the NCAA Tournament, and it may be more likely that only one Pac-12 team gets an invite on Selection Sunday.
What to Watch For
- With the above in mind, Cal and Washington need to kick start the second half of conference play by taking care of business at home.
- The Golden Bears see the Arizona schools come to Berkeley Thursday night, with an angry Wildcat team, fresh off a home loss to the Huskies, leading the change.
- For Washington, it is the Los Angeles schools coming to town, with the matchup with UCLA on Thursday night presenting the biggest challenge. The Stanford matchup with Arizona will also be interesting, while Colorado gets to host the Oregon schools this week, setting up two interesting games that should help clear up some of the confusion in the middle of the conference.
- Tony Wroten just keeps plugging along, putting up good-looking traditional numbers while putting up appalling tempo-free numbers. Last week, he did turn in a sparkling game against Arizona State, one of the better games of his short college career, hitting 9-of-12 shots on his way to 22 points, handing out three assists against just two turnovers and grabbing six rebounds and a couple steals. But his effort against Arizona sums up the case against him: he took 18 shots to score 17 points and turned it over five times. If that type of performance were the exception rather than the rule, he’d be in business, but all too often Wroten needs to put up a significant number of shots and use a significant number of possessions (in a seriously inefficient way) to earn his gaudy traditional numbers. He’ll certainly get plenty of POTY votes, but those people need to have their voting rights stripped.
- Luckily, we’re possibly beginning to see Jared Cunningham become a legitimate counter to the Wroten campaign. His numbers have been spectacular throughout the season, but concern over his team’s sub-.500 have kept his candidacy down. Now the Beavers are back within a game of .500, and in part due to Cunningham’s strong play. During OSU’s current three-game winning streak, Cunningham is shooting a 56.8 eFG%, averaging 22 points per game, grabbing more than four rebounds per game and getting a couple steals per game.
- As of right now, those two are the favorites, but Wroten’s teammate Terrence Ross probably isn’t getting enough credit for his play. He’s scored in double figures in all but one game this year and is averaging 15.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, making him the only player in the conference in the top ten in both points and rebounds. Then there’s Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez, whose numbers are good enough (14.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.4 APG), but whose true contribution to his team’s success goes far beyond the numbers.
- After those four, you’ve got a handful of players who have been good, but who would need to really jump on the gas over the last nine games to warrant serious consideration for the POTY title. Guys like Solomon Hill, Andre Roberson, Devoe Joseph and Allen Crabbe are all strong contenders for inclusion on the All-Pac-12 team, but their chances at earning the POTY award are slim.
Freshman of the Year Watch
Wroten is going to win this award; there is little doubt about it. And, when that eventuality comes to pass, you’ll not hear a peep out of me. I’d certainly rather see somebody with a more efficient offensive game, like Spencer Dinwiddie, Jonathan Gilling or David Kravish, win the award, but each of those players is flawed in some way (or multiple ways) and there is little doubt that Wroten has had a bigger effect on his team.
Cal may be tied with Washington atop the standings, but they’re all alone in first in our weekly power rankings. The Huskies, meanwhile, have yet to make believers out of one of us, as they still sit in fourth, behind Stanford and Oregon, two teams that they have beaten rather convincingly at home.
Washington took home our Team of the Week award for the second time this season after pulling off the road sweep, while Jared Cunningham took home Player of the Week honors for the second time as well, becoming the first player to win the award twice this season. Meanwhile, Arizona State freshman Jonathan Gilling took home our Newcomer of the Week award for his versatile performance in a split against the Washington schools.
YouTube of the Week
While I may have my reservations about Tony Wroten as a Player of the Year candidate, there is no doubt in my mind that he should be the winner here, for his massive dunk over none other than our NOTW winner, Gilling. Here’s what Wroten thinks of Gilling attempting to steal his thunder: