Preseason Questions: Is Utah’s Delon Wright Ready For Stardom?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 7th, 2014

Many college basketball fans still may not know who Delon Wright is – he remains a trendy selection for the “criminally underrated” superlative – but 12 months ago, no college basketball fan knew who Delon Wright was. The younger brother of NBA veteran Dorell Wright was a late bloomer who garnered little recruiting attention out of high school. He was a more coveted quantity by the time his two years at the City College of San Francisco had expired, but even then, Wright arrived on Utah’s campus with little fanfare.

Delon Wright Was A Pleasant Surprise Last Year; Are Bigger Things In Store For The Utah Senior This Season?

Delon Wright Was A Pleasant Surprise Last Year; Are Bigger Things In Store For The Utah Senior This Season?

What a difference a year can make. The efficiency tour de force that was Wright’s first D-I season has turned him into a preseason contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year and made his team a good bet to crash its first NCAA Tournament in a half-decade. Utah was picked second in the Pac-12 preseason poll, and for the first time in a long time, there are real expectations in Salt Lake City. Whether those hopes are fulfilled will partially be decided by how stirring an encore (and finale) Wright can deliver. The now-senior was brilliant last season, but also disappeared for critical stretches of a Utah season that ended in the NIT. Fans crave a different sort of postseason this year, but a critical question has yet to be answered: Is Delon Wright ready for stardom?

Statistically speaking, Wright kept everyone happy last year. Old school per-game enthusiasts were satiated by a nightly average of 15.5 PPG/6.8 RPG/5.8 APG across the board, while efficiency hounds marveled at Wright’s disruptive defensive habits (4.0% steal percentage, 3.5% block percentage) and a squeaky clean 119.2 offensive rating. His efficient offense was propelled by an eye-popping 62 percent two-point field goal percentage, an outrageous rate of conversion for a guard from inside the arc. By contrast, Louisville’s preseason All-America big man Montrezl Harrell had 97 dunks a season ago and still failed to match Wright’s gaudy two-point range percentage.

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part One

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day in San Francisco on Thursday. Check back later in the day for his notes on the conference’s other six teams.

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

USC

Coach Andy Enfield took the stage with his starting power forward (or center, Enfield noted both), Nikola Jovanovic, and provided opening remarks lasting about as long as a USC possession: 16 seconds. It was swift and brief. He was complimentary of his fellow, on-stage Trojan, and left the rest to us. Which is probably indicative of the program he’s building. It is just year two and arguably the least interesting season during a rebuild. It’s neither new and exciting nor developed enough to garner much attention. His team is picked to finish 10th, but he likes what he’s building, “We have more athleticism, better shooting. We have an elite freshman point guard (Jordan McLaughlin) we recruited,” said Enfield. These components, he notes, are and will become major parts of what we presume is the Enfield system, aka Dunk City, aka Galen Dunk Center. The addition of McLaughlin is huge, and, without directly saying it, Enfield knows how important he is to their future, “We’re expecting big things from him. I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman. He’ll have that opportunity. We’re excited for him.” Which is great because I am, too! I’ll be closely following McLaughlin’s progress as his commitment to USC, rather than UCLA when the Bruins were in dire need for a 2014 point guard, is a fascinating storyline to this season. USC might play in flashes and make swift opening remarks, but they just might be a program to stick around awhile.

Washington State

Easily the most charismatic of the coaches, Ernie Kent considered himself back from sabbatical: “Any coach that has coached 30-plus years needs a sabbatical. I’m just amazed at what it’s done for me in terms of your energy, your spirt.” Energy and spirit he provided. He was colorful and funny, even having a slight back-and-forth with his accompanying star, DaVonte Lacy. The two seemed to understand the challenges ahead considering the roster in Pullman and the depth of the conference. But Lacy believes they have the unique opportunity to come together, build on chemistry and do something special. It’s something he learned in his short stint with the Pac-12 All-Star team while in China and it’s something he expanded upon when I asked him about leadership, “Being someone that’s been through the fire already, preparing [newcomers] to go through it, that’s how I’m approaching leadership.” Lacy hopes to galvanize this group, building chemistry and subsequently surprising a few people with what the Cougars can do. And speaking of surprises, can you imagine a “lost” Ernie Kent knocking on your door looking for directions? “Hi, I’m lost. I’m also your new basketball coach.” It’s something Kent has been doing in trying to energize the Cougars fan base, “I’ve tried to make myself available as much as possible… it’s been fun getting out and meeting people in Pullman.” Like I said, the most charismatic of the 12 lead gentlemen.

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Pac-12 Offseason Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 14th, 2014

With basketball season now officially a speck on the horizon, it is time to dig back in and begin the trek that will eventually drop us off at the Final Four in Indianapolis on the first weekend of April. If you, like us, have been away enjoying your summer and you need a refresher on what’s going on in the world of Pac-12 basketball, we’ll get you jump started by trying to sum up every Pac-12 team’s offseason and their big questions for this season in a short paragraph.

Washington State – The Cougars’ big offseason story was etched in stone way back on March 18 when they fired head coach Ken Bone after five increasingly less successful seasons in Pullman. After a tidy two-week search, former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent was named as Bone’s successor. Kent’s got his work cut out for him at the toughest job in the conference, but he’s shown an ability to recruit on the fly, putting together a tidy four-man 2014 class that will at least give the Cougs a chance to surround star senior guard DaVonte Lacy with some decent parts.

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

California – Likewise, the Golden Bears’ offseason story revolves around a coaching change, what with Mike Montgomery putting an end to his Hall of Fame career following last year’s disappointing season. Athletic director Sandy Barbour wound up with an intriguing hire when he pulled Cuonzo Martin away from Tennessee following his March run from the First Four to the Sweet Sixteen. Martin’s first year in Berkeley will be marked by a short bench, and he’s yet to have any success on the recruiting trail. Furthermore, replacing a fixture like Montgomery is never going to be easy. But Martin immediately gives Cal a completely different feel on the sidelines. Stay tuned.

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Pac-12 Early Entry Decisions: Winners and Losers

Posted by AMurawa on April 28th, 2014

With Sunday night’s early-entry deadline come and gone, programs have now gotten past one potential source of damage to their rosters. Kids can still announce their transfers or get in trouble or get hurt, so the names on these rosters can still remain in a state of flux, but below we’ll discuss the winners and losers in the conference after the going pro pothole has passed.

Winners

Arizona – It’s not often that you can call a team that lost two players to early entry a winner, but the fact is, the Wildcats lose Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, but guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley passed on the temptation of the NBA to return for another year in the desert. Of the two who left, there was little surprise, as Gordon is a sure-fire lottery pick while Johnson played well enough this season to probably maximize his attractiveness to NBA scouts (he’s projected as a second-rounder). Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson in particular was a serious threat to leave early, with a likely first-round selection awaiting. However, with his return to Tucson, he’ll have a chance to not only improve his draft stock, but also keep the Wildcats near the top of the national conversation.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's Decision to Return To School Keeps Arizona Among The National Favorites (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s Decision to Return To School Keeps Arizona Among The National Favorites (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Oregon – Joseph Young considered forgoing his final season of eligibility for a run at the NBA dream, but the 6’3” shooter likely got word back from scouts to return to school, work on his ballhandling and start playing some defense. As a result, Young will again be a part of what should be a high-flying Duck offense and have a chance to legitimately work himself into NBA Draft consideration next season.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 15th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Utah.

What Went Right

For the first time since Larry Krystkowiak took over a shell of a program from Jim Boylen, Utah basketball fans had a team that they knew could be competitive night in and night out. Of the Utes’ 12 losses this season, seven were by a single possession. The talent level is clearly back to the point where the Utes can be competitive in the Pac-12, defense has become a priority, and the future appears bright.

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak's Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak’s Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

What Went Wrong

So, those seven losses by a single possession? Well, that’s not good, is it? Time and time again, the Utes had chances to win close games down the stretch, and time and time again they wound up with losses in those games. Their record in games decided by a single possession was 0-7. They lost all three of their overtime games. And only six times all season did they win games decided by fewer than 10 points. In other words, unless the Utes were blowing out their opponent, odds were good that they were losing. Chalk some of that up to bad luck, another portion to a young team still learning to win games, and more to some coaching breakdowns. But the good news is that if next year’s Utes can find some ways to win those close games, they should be looking at a very good record.

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Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 9th, 2014

Another season in the books; another Pac-12 disappointment. We’ve got plenty of time to look back on the 2013-14 season, but it is onward and upward from here as we briefly look ahead to next year. We’re still not entirely sure exactly which of the players we watched this year will move on to greener pastures, and there are sure to be some surprise transfers (both incoming and outgoing) ahead of us, but in the days after the national championship, it is time to start dreaming about the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are our way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski, Among Others, Make Arizona The Pac-12 Favorite Again (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  1. Arizona – Sure, Aaron Gordon’s stay in Tucson was brief. And yeah, Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson may join him in the NBA. But barring some surprises, five of the following six players are going to be comprising Sean Miller’s starting lineup next season: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski. Goodness gracious sakes alive, that is a lot of talent. And, the West Regional will not be held in Anaheim next season, so let’s go ahead and pencil Miller and his Wildcats into his first-ever Final Four.
  2. Stanford – Johnny Dawkins and company broke through this year with their first NCAA Tournament appearance under the current regime. And while some important players move on, a returning nucleus of combo guard Chasson Randle, wing Anthony Brown and big man Stefan Nastic is solid. Throw in a recruiting class with four different four-star recruits (as ranked by ESPN) and a bevy of talented returning youngsters and we’ll make the Cardinal the best bet in the league to challenge the Wildcats. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rounding Up Pac-12 Quarterfinal Thursday

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2014

The big talk around the conference tournament on Wednesday was Utah’s potential. A KenPom darling ranked in the upper 30s by that metric with a history of playing everybody – including conference elite Arizona – tough, they were usually somewhere around the “Next Four Out” section of most bracketology projections. A win over Arizona in Thursday’s quarterfinal, and maybe they jump California for the seventh Pac-12 team in line for an NCAA bid. For the first segment of the game Thursday afternoon, things were fine, with the Wildcats holding a 7-6 lead at the under-16 timeout. And then. Well. Adjectives fail to adequately describe, so let’s jump right to the numbers: over the remainder of the half, Arizona outscored the Utes 27-6 and 44-11 over the next roughly 23 minutes of game time. At the half, Utah was averaging less than a point every two possessions (0.48 PPP). Arizona was grabbing 92.9% of defensive rebound opportunities and 53.8% on the offensive end. They were leading 8-0 in fast break points, 9-2 in points off turnovers and 16-8 in points in the paint. Three Utes scored in the first half, and their top-three leading scorers on the year – Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brendan Taylor – were not among them. We could go on.

Arizona's Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona’s Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

There are more stats to be spouted about how dominant the Wildcats were on Thursday afternoon, but there will be more opportunities for them to show off for the rest of the country. Put simply, if the Arizona team that showed up today, and that showed up a couple weeks back dominating the Bay Area schools, continues to be the default Wildcat team, they’ve got a very good chance of cutting down the nets in April. As for Utah, they’ll have an opportunity to continue their season in the NIT, and they’ll be a very tough out there. And next year, behind Wright and Loveridge, they’ll be a favorite for an upper-division Pac-12 finish and an NCAA Tournament invitation. Neither of those things, however, give them much solace now.

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Pac-12 Superlatives: Coach, Newcomer, Freshman of the Year and More

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

We announced our Player of the Year and All-Conference teams earlier today, now to dig a little bit deeper with the rest of our All-Conference Awards.

Coach of the Year

Sean Miller, Arizona – This was a no-brainer, as all three of our voters opted for the head coach of the conference champion. Not only did Miller put together a heaping pile of talent in Tucson, but he’s got the group to all buy in to a single goal. They’re all committed defensively, they work together as a single unit, covering for each other. And when Brandon Ashley went down with a broken foot in February, Miller was able to shift on the fly, remaking his team to give it the best chance come March. Many times, a coach is punished in these Coach of the Year votes for having the best talent. This time around, despite Miller having the best team in the league, there should be little argument that he deserves the nod.

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Newcomer of the Year

Delon Wright, Utah – In his first year in Salt Lake City after a stint at the City College of San Francisco, Wright was something of an unknown coming into the season. And then, as the Utes were running roughshod over undermanned opponents in the early schedule, it was hard to tell if Wright’s ridiculous numbers were legitimate. Four months later, there is no such worry;  not only are his numbers legit, he’s one of the handful of best players in the league. He led his team in scoring, assists, steals, blocks and minutes. He posted a 59.7 eFG%, an absolutely ludicrous number for a point guard. And he helped shift the climate in the Huntsman Center from that of a program used to losing to one that now expects to win.

Defensive Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Arizona – Our three voters are a small sample size, perhaps accounting for this surprising result, but Johnson edged Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski on the basis of his hounding perimeter defense for the most efficient defensive team in the nation.

Nick Johnson: He's Not Just Our Player of the Year, He's Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Nick Johnson: He’s Not Just Our Player of the Year, He’s Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Freshman of the Year

Aaron Gordon, Arizona – So often, the talk about Gordon is about the things he can’t do, and admittedly, he’s a pretty poor shooter. But, he wouldn’t be our unanimous Freshman of the Year and a second-team all-conference guy if he were defined strictly by what he can’t do. Because, what he can do is pretty special. Athletically alone, he is in the upper 1% of all Division I college basketball players. His versatility – being able to guard not only fours and fives like Josh Scott and Dwight Powell, but also ones and twos like Chasson Randle and Spencer Dinwiddie – allow the Wildcats to switch everything defensively and match up with whatever the opponent puts on the court without tweaking their own personnel. And then his ability to rebound and finish around the rim, or his keen passing eye or developing game off the bounce? It is no wonder NBA scouts drool over his potential.

Sixth-Man of The Year

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona – What you want most from a sixth-man is the willingness to do whatever is needed to help the team achieve its goals. Sometimes that means a gunner coming in off the bench to provide instant offense, like Jason Calliste at Oregon. Or a complete change of blood like Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine provide at UCLA. But Hollis-Jefferson is the consummate sixth-man, so much so that when Brandon Ashley went down for the year, Hollis-Jefferson was ready and willing to step into the starting lineup. And then, three games later, when Sean Miller decided it would be better for him to return to his role off the bench, he did so without complaint. Oh, and it also helps that he’s really good, a terrific defender that fits in perfectly with the rest of the squad, an aggressive rebounder and a skilled slasher.

Most Improved

Davonte Lacy, Washington State – On a team that lost go-to scorer Brock Motum, the junior guard took over the reigns as the Cougars best offensive option. His scoring average jumped from 10 PPG to almost 20, his shooting percentages went up across the board and his usage numbers skyrocketed as well. It may not have been the year Ken Bone envisioned, but it certainly wasn’t Lacy’s fault.

All-Freshman Team

  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
  • Zach LaVine, UCLA
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA

All-Defensive Team

  • Nick Johnson, Arizona
  • Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Delon Wright, Utah
  • Jordan Adams, UCLA
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Pac-12 Player of the Year and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

Before we announce our Player of the Year and our all-Pac-12 Teams, a quick note on our methodology here — we had each of our three voters – Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, and Adam Butler – rank their top 15 players in the conference and awarded points to each player based on those votes (1st place vote =15 points, 2nd place =14, etc.). Normally, when putting together an all-conference team, we’d make an effort to balance our team by position, with either three guards and two frontcourt players on each team, or vice versa. But in this season’s guard-heavy conference we didn’t get a lot of frontcourt votes, which is why you’ll see a five-guard first team when you scroll down. As for our Player of the Year voting, it was simple enough. The player with the most points in our all-conference balloting was our Pac-12 Player of the Year.

Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona – As expected, it came down to a close two-man race for Player of the Year, but Johnson squeaked out the win by one point over UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson. Johnson is not only the leading scorer on the Wildcats, he is also their key defensive catalyst. As Adam Butler wrote justifying his vote for Johnson over Anderson: “Nick Johnson was the most critical player on the best team in the conference. As he went, the Wildcats went and more often than not (see 28-3), Nick Johnson played well. Nay, great.” To look at it the other way, compare Johnson’s performance in the three Arizona losses to their 28 wins. In those three losses, Johnson averaged fewer than 10 points per game on 23.9% eFG; in the wins, he posted a 50.8% eFG on his way to 16.8 points per win.

Nick Johnson's Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference's Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

Nick Johnson’s Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference’s Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona (16.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
  • Kyle Anderson, Sophomore, UCLA (14.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 48% 3FG) – The versatile Anderson has been one of the nation’s most improved players, registering as not only a terrific play-maker but an elite rebounding  guard.
  • Delon Wright, Junior, Utah (16.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.6 SPG, 1.3 SPG, 59.7% eFG) – The junior college transfer came out of nowhere to become arguably the most versatile player in the conference – if not the most versatile in the nation. These three players were almost unanimously the top three players in the conference this season.
  • Justin Cobbs, Senior, California (15.6 PPG, 5.8 APG) – Cobbs ranked no higher than fifth but no lower than eighth on any of the three ballots, a consistency which earned him a first-team all-conference spot.
  • Roberto Nelson, Senior, Oregon State (20.6 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.6 RPG) – Nelson was in the top five on two of three ballots, but was left completely off of a third (ahem, Butler). He still had enough votes to sneak on to the first team.

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Marching to Vegas: The Final Steps

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 7th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.We find ourselves on the penultimate day of the basketball season. A season, like those before it, that has seen highs and low, cliché, cliché, cliché. I’ve been critical of the Pac, supportive of the Pac, predictive, analytical, and funny. I’ve defended it multiple times and sang praise, too. I’ve linked this entire lead. But the point here is that we’re here. The calendar has turned to our favorite month. Our March to Vegas is over. Our season embarks into the madness of sudden death and the promise of possibility. Tournaments begin (ultimately two of them) with abundant hope and now I’m getting lost in Waltonian hyperbole; but if not hyperbole then what is March for? I mean, look at our first and only conference games thus far in the month. The home and road teams have nearly split their contests. To date, home teams had been winning at a greater than 66 percent clip. Suddenly we get to the third month on the calendar and nothing becomes predictable. Each of Wednesday’s road teams won and then, in perhaps the most unexpected of outcomes, the Trojans got their second victory. Indeed we’re knee deep in the madness and we aren’t even in Vegas yet.

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

But before we get there, I’d like to revisit our first thought. When I lauded that the Pac was back before nary a game was played. Is it back? Or, perhaps more aptly said, has it returned? With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say it is. Look at what we have: arguably the best crop of guards in the nation and the best defense the nation has to offer. We watched the emergence of Utah, a budding program under the hard-nosed and determined watch of Larry Krystkowiak. And have you watched Delon Wright? I didn’t see that coming and if you did, link me to what you said about it because I’d like to buy you a drink. What a phenomenal player who is coming back next season. And still has this season to play (I see you, Vegas). Further, we watched what I believe to be the best backcourt in the country. Or at least the most dynamic. Between Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, is there anything they can’t do? And if there is, they could just toss it up to Zach LaVine and it might be all right.

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Marching to Vegas: Picking a Dark Horse

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoops) on February 28th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.

‘Tis the time of year when we really dive into favorites. It makes sense as those usually come first. We pick our favorite candy, friend, player, etc., first whenever organizing. And with the NCAA Tournament fast approaching (you guys realize tomorrow is March, right?) our immediate dialogue turns to picking the favorites to win the thing. Well let’s take a step back from the NCAAs and away from favorites for a second and get ahead of ourselves and talk about who might be a dark horse winner of the Pac-12 Tournament. Semantics would suggest that I’m just citing the favorite rally through a few upsets in Vegas, but I’d disagree. The favorites to win the tournament are foregone. As Tad Boyle recently said, ““There are 11 other teams in the Pac-12 and then there’s Arizona.” There ya have it folks, the favorites debate is settled. Which isn’t to say that anyone not named “Wildcats” is a dark horse champion candidate. Quite the contrary. I like UCLA’s odds and think a senior-laden Stanford crew could most certainly make noise. Arizona State has one of the most dynamic players in the country in Jahii Carson with a red hot support staff in Jermaine Marshall and the conference’s all-time leading shot blocker in Jordan Bachynski making the Sun Devils another viable title option.

Yeah, Arizona Is The Favorite, We Know That Already. Give Us An Underdog (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Yeah, Arizona Is The Favorite, We Know That Already. Give Us An Underdog. (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

But whoopdie doo, Adam! These guys are all in the top half of the conference. That’s why it’s not too exciting, right now in this column, to discuss the favorites. We know them. So what about those dark horses, the un-favorites. I’d say that the criteria to fit this bill is slim. You have had to show the propensity to: A) beat top teams, B) do something elite, and/or C) get wildly hot with top talent. Let’s get something out of the way: USC and Washington State fit none of these bills. The Trojans have demonstrated that not only can they not beat elite teams, but they can’t beat anyone. They will not win the Pac-12 Tournament. Likewise, the Cougars won’t either. Did you know that they put up 0.46 points per possession in a game this season? They couldn’t even bust the 1.0 PPP mark against Oregon State. At this point we have covered the favorites and the least favorites. Leaving us right where we want to be, looking at my favorite dark horse candidates to win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada (it’s two weeks away, by the way).

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Five Arguments for the Pac-12 Player of the Year

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton & Adam Butler on February 27th, 2014

We’ve still got two weeks of conference play remaining, but the Pac-12 Player of the Year has really crystallized into a two-man race between UCLA’s Kyle Anderson and Arizona’s Nick Johnson. Still, there are a handful of other players for whom arguments deserve to be made. Below, our RTC Microsite staff plus frequent guest Adam Butler of Pachoops.com break down what they consider to be the top five candidates for this award, presented below in alphabetical order.

Kyle Anderson, UCLA (argued by Andrew Murawa)

Kyle Anderson Not Only Leads The Bruins In Several Stats, But He Also Just Flat Out Leads

Kyle Anderson Not Only Leads The Bruins In Several Stats, But He Also Just Flat Out Leads

If he’s not the clear-cut favorite to win the conference Player of the Year, he’s likely one of just two players realistically in the conversation. Why is Slo-Mo so deserving of such recognition? Well, quite simply, he does just about everything related to the game of basketball very well and he’s also one of the most versatile players ever to grace a college basketball court. He’s a 6’9” dynamo who is not only the best point guard in the conference, but he’s also arguably the best power forward in the conference. Compared to players nationally, his KenPom profile is littered with all sorts of little red numbers highlighted in yellow, indicating that he’s very effective across the board. He leads his team in rebounds, blocks and assists; he’s second in points and steals. But most importantly, he leads. A floor general in the purest sense of the term, he knows where all of his teammates are at all times, and just as importantly, he knows where they should be – and isn’t afraid to tell them. Off the court he’s taken on the mantle of the team’s spokesman at times. And when the game seems to be moving too fast for others, Anderson is sure to keep it cool, proving once and for all that Slo-Mo is not meant to be a pejorative.

Justin Cobbs, California (AM)

Senior point guard. Is there a more comforting phrase in all of college athletics? The very thought brings up the image of guys like Peyton Siva and Jon Scheyer and A.J. Price and Gerry McNamara, elevating their games to new heights. Cobbs may not wind up having the type of team success that those guys had, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Minus his running mate from his last two seasons in Berkeley, Allen Crabbe, Cobbs has gone out of his way this season to try to get teammates like senior forward Richard Solomon, sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace and mercurial freshman Jabari Bird involved in the offense. Despite the loss of the Pac-12 Player of the Year and the elevated roles of young and unproven scorers, the Golden Bears are light years better this season offensively than they were last year, scoring almost seven more points per 100 possessions. Cobbs has been the biggest reason why. The percentage of shots he is taking this season has remained steady, but his assists have skyrocketed, making the transition for those aforementioned teammates into larger roles that much smoother. When it has come time late in tight games for the Golden Bears to rely on their senior leader to score big buckets, he’s repeatedly come up big. His ridiculous late-game performance against #1 Arizona earned the most national attention, but astute Pac-12 hoops fans have seen those deadly step-back daggers on more than a handful of occasions this year.

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