Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Casting our ballots: Pac-12
By Eamonn Brennan
Editor’s Note: To see our expert picks for each of the nation’s 12 top conferences, click here. To cast your vote in these races, visit SportsNation.
A quick look at the player and coach of the year races in the Pac-12:
Player of the Year
Last year, this race was easy. Derrick Williams (speaking of which, how about his line against the Clippers Tuesday night?) was simultaneously one of the nation's most exciting, important and efficient players. The 2011 Pac-10 player of the year ballot didn't require much in the way of deep, ruminative thought. Just write down "Derrick Williams, Arizona" and go enjoy the rest of your day.
The 2012 race is far less transparent. Perhaps that's an effect of the nature of this very down league, which lacks the diffuse top-flight NBA talent of the past decade. Or maybe it's just one of those years, in which the Pac-12 has a lot of solid players, and some very good ones, but no one obvious pick, no player whose performance has screamed "I'm better than everyone else here." When you look at the tempo-free stats -- offensive rating, for example -- the numbers seem to bear that out: Among players that used at least 24 percent of their team's possessions, the league's highest offensive rating belonged to Washington State's Brock Motum (108.9). By contrast, most other power six leagues have several players above that threshold, in some cases by a considerable margin.
Which, actually, is a good, quick way to insert Motum into this conversation. The chances Motum will win the official Pac-12 POY award are probably slim to none. His team's record (14-14 overall, 6-10 Pac-12, as of this writing) just isn't good enough to get him that kind of consideration. But Motum has been an efficient and versatile interior force for a team that desperately needed one when senior guard Faisal Aden suffered a career-ending ACL injury earlier this season. His surprise emergence kept an already-bad Wazzu team from totally falling off a cliff. They don't give many POY awards for "sneakily the most important player on a thoroughly mediocre team," so Motum won't win the award. But he is certainly worthy of a mention. The same can be said for Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham, who leads the league in points (18.7) and steals (2.6) average per game.
Washington freshman Tony Wroten is averaging 16.7 points per game.
In the end, though, we have to give the nod to Washington guard Tony Wroten. Wroten has plenty of holes in his game, to be sure. He dominates the ball, and not always for the better. He's made just 9 of his 49 3-point attempts all season. His turnovers nearly eclipse his assists. And so on. But there are no perfect players in the Pac-12 this season -- there is no Derrick Williams -- and Wroten's overwhelming athleticism and playmaking ability at the off-guard spot has, for all occasional flaws, often been the difference in Washington's nine-wins-in-10-games run to the top of the Pac-12 standings this week. Cal's Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe deserve honorable mentions, as well, but Cal's strengths lie in its balance. Wroten has talent alongside him -- Terrence Ross could be a candidate, too -- but Wroten's total floor game (his averages: 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals) make him arguably the most difficult player to gameplan for in the entire league. And as the season has worn on, the freshman has often raised his game.
It's no slam dunk. But very little in this year's Pac-12 is.
Coach of the Year
Coach of the Year is always a weird award, isn't it? Most voters seem to look at preseason predictions -- which the voters themselves (or the coaches, or both) create in the first place -- and judge a coach based on how his team performed against those expectations. This discounts the importance of recruiting, of managing elite talent, or both, and it tends to boil the award down to a pretty crude calculus.
Which is why we have to give this year's Pac-12 Coach of the Year honor to ... wait for it ... UCLA's Ben Howland.
Kidding, you guys! Kidding! Holster your angry comments! I just had to make sure you were paying attention, is all. (I have a better chance of winning the 2013 NBA Dunk Contest than Howland does of winning coach of the year. Ain't happenin'.)
All joking aside, and with apologies to likewise deserving leaders like Washington's Lorenzo Romar, Oregon's Dana Altman, Cal's Mike Montgomery and Arizona's Sean Miller, this year's Pac-12 Coach of the Year is -- or at least should be -- Colorado's Tad Boyle. Last offseason, Boyle lost his two best players (senior guard Cory Higgins and NBA-bound guard Alec Burks), and the Buffaloes were rightly expected to finish near the middle, or even the bottom half, of the Pac-12. But behind a stellar season from sophomore forward Andre Roberson, Boyle has his team currently sitting at 19-9 overall and 11-5 in the league with an outside shot -- a small one, but a shot nonetheless -- at sneaking into the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday.
In 2011, with an NBA talent and a very productive senior leader on his team, the Buffs were one of the few deserving candidates to miss out on the Big Dance. That Boyle might yet get this year's team in that field is a testament to the job he's done in his second season.