Pac-12 Burning Questions: Surprises and Disappoinments?Posted by AMurawa on February 23rd, 2012
Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week:
“Which team has had the most surprising season, and which has had the most disappointing? Likewise, which player has had the most surprising season, and which has had the most disappointing?”
Connor Pelton: The most surprising team is Colorado. The Buffaloes were picked by almost every pundit in the nation to finish around tenth in the Pac-12, and here we are with two weeks left in the season looking at a team that is third in the conference and a lock for the NIT. Obviously, their altitude-assisted homecourt advantage has something to do with it, but I think it is great. It is one of the things that make the sport so interesting, so I’m definitely not counting that against them. The most disappointing team has been UCLA. Granted, the Bruins have done better in Pac-12 play, but they have been so wildly inconsistent that you barely notice when they do something good. It took them six games to beat a Division I team, and they had a few head-scratching losses early on.
The most surprising player has been junior forward Brock Motum from Washington State. Motum has been the key to all but a few of Washington State’s 14 wins, and his stats have been amazing. His 17.8 PPG is up +10.2 points from last season, his 6.5 RPG are a +3.5 improvement, and he is averaging +12.9 MPG. His shooting range and ability to completely take over a game is better than any other big man in the conference. The most disappointing player that has completed a full season (Here’s looking at you, Reeves Nelson, Josh Watkins, Jabari Brown, and Jahii Carson) is junior forward/center Joe Burton from Oregon State. Hopes were high for Burton’s junior year as many thought he would take over the point-center role that the Beavers abandoned last season. Early on however, it became apparent that Burton didn’t have the shooting range to take on that position, and as the season progressed he became more and sloppy with the basketball. He has now lost his starting job and his minutes have severely declined over the past few games.
Andrew Murawa: I would agree with Connor on the most surprising and disappointing teams, and I don’t think there’s much question about either of them. Colorado was expected to be a distant also-ran, but instead they’re one of three teams who still have a chance to win the conference at this late date. Meanwhile, UCLA was one of four co-favorites at the start of the year, and within a week of the start of the season (and that’s being generous) it was clear that those expectations were seriously awry.
As for the players, while Motum’s big leap is a good choice for biggest surprise, I’ll go with California’s Justin Cobbs. The transfer from Minnesota came to Berkeley with little fanfare, expected to wind up in a time-share at point with Brandon Smith. In his single season in Minneapolis, he averaged just ten minutes and two points per game, shot just a 35.7% eFG and was completely forgettable. But, he came in, took over a starting spot inside of a month and became a big-time contributor for Mike Montgomery, not only running the offense to perfection, but turning into an excellent defender.
As for disappointments, there are so many choices in a year when the whole conference was a disappointment, but Joshua Smith at UCLA is as good a choice as any (again, barring players who left early for one reason or another). Smith came into the season in terrible shape and still has a ways to go months later. For a guy with the talent to be an all-conference player, he has only played 20 or more minutes on 11 different occasions this year, and only once has the 6’10” behemoth grabbed double-digit rebounds. After a promising freshman season, his numbers are down almost all the way across the board. However, he’s just one reason among many with UCLA has limped to a mediocre season.