Happy New Conference Year: A Pac-12 Reset

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 31st, 2015

Happy New Year’s everyone! May you all celebrate the arbitrary tick of the clock on an arbitrary day on the arbitrarily human-invented calendar in whichever arbitrary fashion pleases you the most! Here in this space we’re turning our attention to something far less arbitrary, a tradition older than the hills, a ritual that goes back to before the first organism crawled out of the ocean and onto dry land however many million years ago: the transition from non-conference college basketball to Pac-12 conference play. At least seven unnamed sources indicate that such a sacrament is timeless. And so, to celebrate, let’s take a spin around the Pac-12 and do a quick reset, preparing you for what will seem, as it always does, like a sprint from New Year’s to March Madness.

All-Conference Team (No Surprises Edition)

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors (Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors. (Godofredo Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

  • G Gary Payton II, Sr, Oregon State
  • G Tyrone Wallace, Sr, California
  • F Josh Scott, Sr, Colorado
  • F Ryan Anderson, Sr, Arizona
  • C Jakob Poeltl, So, Utah

When we put together our preseason all-conference picks back in November, Poeltl and Payton were unanimous choices as first-teamers, and here they are at the turn of the calendar as the heavy Player of the Year favorites in the conference. Wallace was also on our preseason first-team and he’s been fine, if not spectacular. Scott and Anderson were second-team guys and have both been rock-solid as seniors. Scott has struggled some in his team’s two losses, but if he can lead the Buffaloes to an upper division finish, he might yet have a say in the Player of the Year race as well.

All-Conference Team (Breakout Players Edition)

  • G Jordan McLaughlin, So, USC
  • G Tra Holder, So, Arizona State
  • F George King, So, Colorado
  • F Chris Boucher, Sr, Oregon
  • C Thomas Welsh, So, UCLA

None of these players received so much as a vote in our preseason polling and yet each has an argument to be among the included on the short list of best players in the conference. McLaughlin and Holder have been catalysts at the point for teams looking to fight their way into the top half of the conference. King is blowing up as a scoring wing following his voluntary redshirt year last season, while Boucher is a highlight-reel regular as a JuCo transfer in Eugene. And Welsh has turned heads with his size and his near-automatic mid-range jumper.

Biggest Surprise (Team Edition)

Jordan McLaughlin And The Trojans Look Primed To Make A Push For The NCAA Tournament (USA Today)

Jordan McLaughlin And The Trojans Look Primed To Make A Push For The NCAA Tournament. (USA TODAY Sports)

USC is the pick here. At the start of the year, our crack team of observers picked the Trojans ninth in the conference. KenPom had the Fighting Enfields 54th in the nation. Since then, USC has jumped 20 spots, with neutral site losses to Xavier (join the club) and Monmouth (no big crime) resting as the lone blemishes on the resume. Meanwhile, it looks like the up-tempo Dunk City West style is starting to actually take; Enfield has really done a terrific job getting his guys to buy in. McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs share time locking down the point spot, Katin Reinhardt has accepted a role off the bench and become a good teammate, Nikola Jovanovic has come into his own in the middle and talents like Bennie Boatwright, Elijah Stewart and Chimezie Metu make the Trojans a deep and imposing team.

Biggest Surprise (Player Edition)

There have been plenty of candidates, but Colorado’s George King jumps off the charts. After a freshman campaign in which he played just 10 percent of available minutes, he took last season as a redshirt year to improve his body and work on his game. Right out of the gates, it was clear that his hard work had paid off. He’s averaging 14.4 points, 4.2 boards, knocking in 46 percent of his threes and playing terrific defense on the wing. He’s leading the Buffs in both possessions used and percentage of shots taken, but he’s taking almost 50% of his shots from deep, a smart plan for a guy converting from long range at a rate as high as he is. Better yet, of the remaining 50% of his shots, the majority of those are coming at the rim rather than on lower-reward two-point jumpers, meaning that even if his three-point shooting numbers dip some, he still has the makeup of an efficient offensive player.

Biggest Disappointment (Team Edition)

Back at the start of the year, California was ranked 16th in the RTC preseason poll. Six of seven voters had the Golden Bears ranked, four had them in the top 16 in the nation and one brave soul (ahem) had Cuonzo Martin’s club and his bevy of future NBA players ranked tenth. Through 13 games, it is that one distrustful individual who was on the right track. Losses to San Diego State, Richmond and an overtime loss at Virginia aren’t totally damning (although the Aztecs have been very bad), and the Bears appear to be getting better on both ends of the court. But, for a team with that much hype, they’ve still got a lot to prove.

Biggest Disappointment (Player Edition)

Let’s not spend a ton of time on this, because it is never fun to kill a college kid for struggling in playing a game, but Utah’s Brandon Taylor was on our preseason second-team all-conference. Prior to this season, the lowest percentage he shot from three-point range in his career was a single rim-out away from 40 percent; this year he’s shooting 23 percent from deep. Worse yet, in taking over many of the point guard duties from the departed Delon Wright, Taylor has been, well, bad. The shooting numbers are bound to go up (they have to, right?) but it’s been a rough start to a senior year.

Best is Yet to Come (Team Edition)

Dillon Brooks And A Duck Team On The Mend Could Dance Long Into 2016 (John Locher, USA Today)

Dillon Brooks And A Duck Team On The Mend Could Dance Long Into 2016. (John Locher, USA TODAY Sports)

There are a couple of ways to go with this one. First, for Washington and its multitude of hyper-talented youngsters, better things are clearly on the horizon. The problem is, those better things are more likely to come next year and the year after, rather than in the spring of 2016. So instead, we drop down Interstate 5 a few hundred miles to Oregon for a team that played without starting center Jordan Bell for the first eight games of the season, without starting point guard Dylan Ennis for the first 12 games of the season and without starting guard Tyler Dorsey for a couple games in the middle of all that as well. Now, the Ducks are starting to get healthy — Dorsey’s back, Bell has five games under his belt and Ennis just got his first run, albeit limited, on Tuesday night. If Dana Altman can seamlessly fold that new talent into an already insanely talented bunch, the sky is the limit for the Ducks.

Best is Yet to Come (Player Edition)

In a season of hope and new beginnings and, well, to be honest, some liquid cheer, let’s spread the wealth around and pick out five guys from up and down the conference who have brighter days coming – and soon.

  • Lorenzo Bonam, Jr, Utah – The JuCo transfer has started ten of the Utes 13 games and has started to take more of a role on the ball since a 17-point loss at Wichita State. In the four games since, he’s averaged 12.5 points and 5.8 assists, including a nine assist game against Duke.
  • Jaylen Brown, Fr, California – The conference’s premier freshman recruit is averaging 14.5 points and 5.5 boards, fine numbers for any freshman, but he’s been somewhat underwhelming. He’s using the most possessions (by a wide margin) on a talented Cal team, but his struggles to knock in jumpers (25.6 percent on 39 three-point attempts and 20.9 percent on 43 two-point jumper attempts) have hindered his game. But if he can ever make enough shots to keep opponents honest, watch out.
  • Aaron Holiday, Fr, UCLA – He’s averaging double-digits for a borderline Top 25 team. He’s already an aggressive and smart defensive pest. He’s knocking in threes at a 40 percent clip. And he’s barely scratching the surface of his potential because he (a) turns the ball over too much (23.6 TO percent), (b) can’t finish near the basket (40 percent on his 35 attempts at the rim), (c) or on contested jumpers (33.3 percent on two-point jumpers). Fix any one of those three things and Holiday and the Bruins are really in business.
  • Dejounte Murray, Fr, Washington – He has a tremendous feel for the game, but the shots just aren’t falling yet. His percentages are rough across the board – 24 percent from three, 62 percent from the line, 32 percent on two-point jumpers. But despite evidence to the contrary, that shot isn’t completely broken. He just understands the game so well, is capable of getting good shots for himself and for teammates, so once shots start falling and he calms down a little, things could improve quickly.
  • Allonzo Trier, Fr, Arizona – One look at Trier’s numbers over his first two months or so (25.7 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 34.1 percent from three, 78.9 percent from the line, 63.5 percent from two, 68.3 FT Rate) and it’s a wonder how he could do much better. But his usage numbers have a chance to go up, and while Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen have shown themselves to be terrific offensive threats, it’s Trier who has the most potential as a scorer with the ball in his hands. He doesn’t have to force things, but if he finds more scoring opportunities for himself, he could be the Cats leading scorer in conference play.
AMurawa (999 Posts)

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