Kirby Lee/USA TODAY

A look at the contenders and the frontrunner for Pac-12 Men's Basketball Player of the Year

The league race for 1st place is up for grabs, the race for Player of the Year is really not.

TEAMS

CONFERENCE

OVERALL

LAST GAME

NEXT GAME

Best Win (Ken POm Rating)

12Arizona

10-4

22-5

W99-61 ASU

@ Colorado

2/24ESPN2

Gonzaga (35)

16Oregon

10-4

21-6

W91-81 ORST

VS WashingtonState

2/24Pac-12 Networks

Arizona (12)

Utah

10-5

21-7

W80-69 USC

VS Arizona State

2/25Pac-12 Networks

Duke (11)

California

9-5

19-8

W80-62 WSU

VS UCLA

2/25ESPN2

Arizona (12)

USC

8-6

19-8

L69-80 UTAH

@ Stanford

2/25Pac-12 Networks

Wichita State (10)

Colorado

8-7

19-9

L53-77 UCLA

VS Arizona

2/24ESPN2

Oregon (18)

Washington

8-7

16-11

W64-53 STAN

@ Oregon State

2/24ESPNU

Texas (30)

Oregon State

6-8

15-10

L81-91 ORE

VS Washington

2/24ESPNU

Oregon (18)

UCLA

6-8

15-12

W77-53 COLO

@ Cal

2/25ESPN2

Kentucky (9)

Stanford

6-8

13-12

L53-64 WASH

VS USC

2/25Pac-12 Networks

Oregon (18)

Arizona State

4-10

14-13

L61-99 ARIZ

@ Utah

2/25Pac-12 Networks

Texas A&M (21)

Washington State

1-14

9-18

L62-80 CAL

@ Oregon

2/24Pac-12 Networks

UCLA (52)

 

                The competition for the Pac-12 regular season title in all likelihood comes down to three teams and two California dark horses.  Utah had the best week, vaulting right back into the thick of the race with a road sweep of the L.A. schools.  Arizona and Oregon handled light work weeks by dismissing their geographical rivals with barely a sweat.  And thanks to a road sweep in Washington, Cal, just one loss column game off the pace, cannot be crossed off the finally shrinking list of contenders.

                With the Arizonas headed to the Rockies, the Wildcats and Utes will be playing a de facto elimination game on the back half of the ‘Cats’ road trip.  Presuming both teams win their first games of the week, their matchup will knock one of them out of the race for pole position on Thursday of the Pac-12 Tournament.

                Meanwhile, Oregon hosts the Washington schools in what should be a two-win weekend.  Any slip-ups likely mean curtains for the Ducks.  Cal needs a home sweep against the L.A. schools to stay in the race, after which they head to the desert.  Don’t look now, but there is a scenario in which the Bears’ game in Tucson settles the Pac-12.  Yes, it’s been a tough year for Stanford fans.

                But there are so many slips between those cups and lips and given the volatility of this kooky confederation of basketball teams, who knows what’s going to happen?  With two weeks left in the regular season, I say our time is better spent this week focusing on the race for Player of the Year.  

                The method we’re using is simple.  We’re going to look at the most efficient offensive players who have the highest usage rates, then look at each’s defensive efficiency rating.  Since lower DRtg’s are better, the player with the biggest differential should be the player of the year.  At least, that’s our thesis.  Let’s see how it plays out, and for dramatic effect, let’s go from 10 to 1 in terms of ORtg.

10.   Tyrone Wallace Cal- Quite possibly the most overrated player in the conference.  Nobody in the Pac-12 uses more of his team’s possessions (28.4%) than Smoochie, and it’s not even close.  Only two players use 28% of their team’s possessions:  Wallace and his teammate Jaylen Brown.  Meanwhile, poor Jordan Mathews chills out with a much higher ORtg (117.7) and a smaller role in Cal’s offense.   Wallace checks in at 104.3 ORtg and his defense is a solid 101.8, for a differential of 2.5.

9.       Tony Parker UCLA- Parker checks in with virtually identical efficiency numbers as Wallace, except he utilizes fewer possessions (25.4%).  His differential is 2.8, and he’s enjoyed a solid season.  However, both Wallace and Parker play less than 65% of their team’s available minutes, which pretty much knocks them out of the race when there are guys playing more minutes and being more efficient.

8.       Tra Holder Arizona State- The only player on the list who actually has a negative differential.  Holder’s been an above average player on offense but an absolute matador on defense, at least according to DRtg.  His efficienty on defense is 113.4, which gives him a -7.4 differential.  Holder does play significantly more minutes than Parker and Wallace, and DRtg is not nearly as trustworthy a metric as ORtg.  However, when you consider that ASU’s team DRtg is 110.1, it’s hard to take his candidacy seriously, as he makes a bad defensive team worse when he’s on the floor.

7.       Kyle Kuzma Utah- The Kuz has had a very solid season, coupling a 106 ORtg with essentially D-1 Average defense.  He uses a pretty high amount of the Utes’ possessions (26.1%) but like Wallace and Parker, isn’t on the floor enough (60% of available minutes) to be strongly considered for POY.

6.       George King Colorado- The talented and promising Freshman doesn’t even start for the Buffaloes, but has the whole Microwave thing down pat.  He’s got a lofty 107.1 ORtg, but his defense, like that of most Frosh wings, has been almost as porous (106.7).  The future is bright for this kid, though.  Expect to see him higher up on this list in years to come, and consider that starting out as a top 10 POY candidate is a pretty impressive starting point.

5.       Gary Payton II Oregon State- Now we start to get to the crème de la crème.  The Son of the Glove has carved out a place in Beaver lore and his Senior season has been the best of all.  On a team where much is demanded of the Beavs’ lead guard, much has been provided.  Payton’s got a differential of 8.4 from offense to defense, and he’s been that good while playing 85.4% of his team’s minutes, fourth-highest in the conference.  The Beavers are still clinging to hope of an NCAA bid, and that's a huge testament to how spectacular Payton II’s been on a team relying heavily on underclassmen this season.

4.       Dillon Brooks Oregon- Brooks’ leap in size (now listed at 6’7” 225 after being listed as 6’5” 205 as a Frosh) has helped spark a leap to the elite class of player in the Pac-12.  Playing with aggression and physicality, Brooks has had a monster season, racking up an ORtg of 117.4 and a differential of 9.1.  Along with George King, Brooks has a profile that screams “NBA” and that profile should only increase next season.  Ultimately, he’s undone by a 108.3 DRtg that eclipses his team’s 104.9 conference rating.  It’s not defense that makes the Ducks go, and Brooks epitomizes their successful formula.  If he can step up his defense moving forward, he could very well run away with this award next season.

3.       Andrew Andrews Washington- Another player having an elite season and, like Brooks, doing it by playing a ton of minutes (82%) and using a lower amount of possessions (24.5%) to do his damage. Andrews sports a fantastic ORtg of 116.6 in conference play.  Like Brooks, the defensive end is his undoing, as he carries a 107.4 DRtg in conference play.  To be fair, nobody else on his team plays any defense, either, and again, DRtg is a far noisier number than ORtg.  Players who guard the other team’s best player, for instance, are going to have higher DRtg’s than guys who are “hidden” on lesser offensive players.   That all being said, Andrews has had a great year, but the two above him have been great on both ends of the court, and that’s the difference.

2.       Ryan Anderson Arizona- The best free agent acquisition of the year comes courtesy of Wildcat GM/Coach Sean Miller.  After spending a year in Juco purgatory, Anderson has been the foundation of yet another Arizona run to the top of the Pac-12 standings. He’s paired a splendid 120.4 ORtg with a fantastic DRtg of 99.5, making him one of only two players to sport a differential of 20 or higher.  If this list was one player shorter, he’d be the no-brainer choice for Player of the Year.  Anderson’s played 69.2% of his team’s minutes, so he has to be dinged a bit for that, though the winner at the top of the list plays only a bit more.   It’s hard to nitpick numbers like those Anderson sports, however.   His 63% True Shooting Percentage is built on a 58% field goal percentage and a very reliable 74% clip at the free throw line.  That’s always a big deal for big men.  He’s going to need to show he can hit from the outside to have an NBA future, as he ‘s taken only six three pointers all year.  That’s for another time.  For now, suffice it to say he is clearly the second-best player in the Pac-12.  Not too shabby.

1.       Jakob Poeltl Utah- I had to do this list in ascending order, because there’s really no drama in determining who wins Player of the Year in the Conference of Champions.  Poeltl’s brilliance on both ends is unmatched.  He’s the most efficient offensive player in the conference at 132.7, and it’s not close.  He’s also the most efficient defensive player in the conference at 97.5.  A no-brainer lottery pick, slow and steady has won the race for Poeltl the Toeltl and he’s got the Utes in the thick of the conference regular season race as well.  He’s also a top 5 rebounder on both ends of the court, and he’s in the top 10 in block percentage.  His differential of 35.3 dwarfs that of Anderson, his closest challenger.  This is your consensus winner, even with two weeks to go in league play.  He’d have to crater to even make this a race, and even in that unlikely scenario he still most likely wins.  Congratulations to the New Austrian Oak.

Here’s the table with the efficiency numbers, for those who are curious:

Player (Team)

ORtg in Conf. Play.

DRtg in Conf. Play

Possession Usage

% Available Minutes Played (Conf. Rank)

Jakob Poeltl (Utah)

132.7

97.4

26.5%

73.5% (19)

Ryan Anderson (UA)

120.4

99.5

24.6%

69.2% (24)

Andrew Andrews (UW)

116.6

107.4

26.8%

82% (6)

Dillon Brooks (UO)

117.4

108.3

26.4%

83.2% (5)

Gary Payton II (OSU)

109.6

101.2

27%

85.4% (4)

George King (Colo)

107.1

106.7

24.5%

64.4% (37)

Kyle Kuzma (Utah)

106

103.1

26.1%

60% (46)

Tra Holder (ASU)

106

113.4

25.6%

78% (13)

Tony Parker (UCLA)

104.3

101.5

25.4%

63.3% (40)

Tyrone Wallace (Cal)

104.3

101.8

28.4%

64.2% (38)

 

You may notice no Cardinal or Trojans on this list.  Stanford has no player who uses 24% of its possessions, which under some circumstances would be a good thing, but in this case reflects on the systematic flaws of the conference’s 11th-rated offense.  Rosco Allen deserves mention, and seeing how he at least doesn’t have a negative differential, you could argue for his inclusion on the list. He’s got a 108.1 ORtg, but his DRtg is 104.7.  As good as he’s been, he’s no threat to the top five on this list.  Next year, though, look out if he decides to return.

 

The Trojans, likewise, despite their great season, did not have a player on this list. Jordan McLaughlin has efficiencies that would certainly crack the top five (118.3/106.9), but he doesn’t use enough of his team’s possessions to crack this list.   His usage is only 21%.  Tough to punish  him for being on a very balanced team, but he’s a below average defender.  Regardless, he will certainly be an All Pac-12 performer, and deservedly so.  But POY?  Not so much.  If you want to swap out Holder and put in McLaughlin, I’d be ok with that.

 

So there you have it.  In a conference where virtually nothing is certain week to week, one thing is:  the Best Player is Jakob Poeltl.  Beyond that, it’s safe to say that the future is bright for the Pac-12 moving forward.

 

Now about getting six teams in the NCAA’s……

 


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