While the Pac-12 may not be all it was cracked up to be early in the season, eight of the conference teams have generally been regarded for most of the past month or so as at least good. That leaves four teams at the bottom of the conference – USC, Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State – that haven’t been taken seriously and that have been described, at one point or another, as straight out bad. A couple of those teams are beginning to come around some, but really until they prove themselves over long stretches, we’re still going to group them at the bottom of the Pac. But, aside from being bad teams, another thing that each of these teams has in common is (at least) one very good player. We’re not spending a ton of time here talking about the Trojans, Beavers, Huskies, and Cougars, but today we’ll give those very good players their due.
Byron Wesley, USC – Maybe you haven’t seen Andy Enfield’s first crack at turning the Galen Center into a basketball Mecca, and if so, no one would blame you. The roster is a mishmash of parts, many of whom are ill-suited to Enfield’s style, let along major conference basketball. But Wesley? This dude would carve out a spot anywhere in the nation. In the past, he’s been known as a solid fundamental wing who is best at the defensive end of the court, and he’s still very much that, but offensively he’s blossomed in his junior year. Despite playing approximately the same number of minutes as he’s played his first two years with the Trojans, his number of possessions used has skyrocketed and in turn his per game averages in points, rebounds, and assists have all ballooned, all while playing at a more efficient level than ever before. While the range on his jumper is still a work in progress (he is just 10-for-34 from deep this year), he’s turned into a solid mid-range shooter. But most impressively, his game off the bounce is far better than it has been in the past, and he’s been getting past defenders, getting into the lane, getting better than 45% of his shots at the rim and converting a healthy percentage of those. And defensively? Goodness, one would shudder to think how bad this USC team would be without the ball if Wesley were not around. Case in point, Wednesday night in their best win of the season over a streaking Cal team. Wesley checked Golden Bear sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace the bulk of the night, and held him to his first single-digit scoring output since early December, on just 2/10 shooting. Wesley may not be as flashy as some of the guys we’re going to talk about later, but if he was playing on a better team, he’d be getting all sorts of accolades.