Dejounte Murray

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Pac-12 Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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The expectation entering the season was that there were at least five teams capable of winning the Pac-12. Sure enough many of the expected contenders remained a factor for a significant portion of the season, with Oregon eventually rising as the class of the conference. Dana Altman’s Ducks went undefeated at home in Pac-12 play and finished above .500 on the road, which is generally a good formula to at the very least contend for a conference title. The play of Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook and company may make Oregon the favorites in Las Vegas, but they’ll have plenty of challengers as well.

Utah has the conference’s Player of the Year in sophomore center Jakob Poeltl, Arizona and California both have talented rotations and teams such as Colorado, Oregon State, USC and Washington are all capable of making a run as well. As of right now the Pac-12 could be a seven-bid league depending upon not only what happens in Las Vegas but also in other conference tournaments across the country. This much is certain: given how balanced and talented the league is, whoever cuts down the nets Saturday night will have been pushed to their limit.

The Bracket

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When: March 9-12

Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 12, 10:00 p.m. (FS1)

Favorite: Oregon

The Ducks may have just a seven-man rotation, but it’s the versatility within that group that makes them so difficult to deal with. Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin are three forwards who can play just about anywhere on the floor. Freshman Tyler Dorsey can play either guard spot, and big man Chris Boucher is a 6-foot-10 senior who can score in the paint and also on the perimeter.

Both Boucher and Jordan Bell run the floor like gazelles and are incredibly active defensively, and point guard Casey Benson’s improved throughout the course of the season. They’ll score points thanks to the talent and Dana Altman’s offensive schemes. But if Oregon can make things happen defensively and get out in transition, they’re an incredibly tough team to beat.

And if they lose?: Utah

Utah’s rise from team that appeared to be headed towards the NCAA tournament bubble to second place in the Pac-12 is due in large part to the development of their perimeter rotation. Brandon Taylor’s embraced the facilitator role down the stretch, and Lorenzo Bonam’s made strides as well. The Runnin’ Utes can surround elite big man Jakob Poeltl with shooters, thus keeping the spacing that ultimately produces quality shots on a regular basis. Utah ranked second in the conference in field goal percentage defense and fourth in three-point percentage defense, and even with the occasional offensive issues they’ve been solid defensively.

Other Contenders:

  • Arizona: The Wildcats are still formidable, even with the end of their streak of two straight Pac-12 regular season titles. Gabe York’s been on fire of late, and with Ryan Anderson and Allonzo Trier leading the way Sean Miller’s team doesn’t lack for talent either.
  • California: The Golden Bears were the team many were waiting for to get going, and down the stretch they did. The return of Tyrone Wallace helped, and they’ve got two of the nation’s top freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb. But they’ve had their issues away from Berkeley, so we’ll see what they can do in Las Vegas.

Sleeper: USC

The Trojans have struggled a bit down the stretch, losing six of their final eight games of the regular season. That being said, USC’s offensive balance and tempo could lend itself to a run in Las Vegas. Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs make up a very good point guard duo, and the Trojans have capable scoring options both in the front court and on the perimeter (six players averaging double figures). They’ll need to keep the turnovers to a minimum, but Andy Enfield’s team is one to keep an eye on.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Colorado: The Buffs are in the field. But a loss to a bad Washington State team could make the wait more nerve-wracking than it should be.
  • Oregon State: The Beavers may have been overlooked by some when it comes to their NCAA tournament hopes. Beat Arizona State, and that should be enough.
  • USC: The Trojans arrive in Las Vegas in solid shape to land a bid. Avoiding a bad loss against UCLA in their tournament opener should be enough to make them feel comfortable.

Pac-12 Player of the Year: Jakob Poeltl, Utah

Poeltl was the preseason pick for the award, and despite Utah’s occasional issues on the perimeter he’s been very consistent for Larry Krystkowiak’s team. In conference play Poeltl averaged 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, shooting a Pac-12 best 62.4 percent from the field.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Dana Altman, Oregon

Three times in the last four seasons Altman’s won this honor, with this most recent award being for leading the Ducks to a regular season Pac-12 title. Oregon navigated injuries early in the season, most notably the loss of the player expected to run the point in Dylan Ennis, and found their groove in conference play when all healthy pieces were back in the fold. And in a season in which road teams had an incredibly hard time picking up wins on a consistent basis, Oregon was one of two teams to sweep two Pac-12 road trips this season (Utah being the other).

First-Team All Pac-12:

  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah(POY)
  • Andrew Andrews, Washington: Andrews has been the unquestioned leader for a very young squad, and in conference games he averaged 22.3 points (first in Pac-12) and 5.1 assists (third) per game.
  • Gary Payton II, Oregon State: Payton’s was named the league’s best defender for a second straight year, and there’s also his versatility. The senior ranked in the top ten in the league in rebounding (ninth), assists (first), steals (first) and assist-to-turnover ratio (third), and 11th in scoring.
  • Dillon Brooks, Oregon: As good as Brooks was as a freshman, he was even better this season. Averaging 17.1 points per game in Pac-12 play, Brooks was a serious contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
  • Ryan Anderson, Arizona: In his lone season on the court for Arizona, the Boston College transfer averaged 16.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest. He was one of two Pac-12 players to average a double-double in conference play (Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson).

Second Team All Pac-12:

  • Jaylen Brown, California
  • Rosco Allen, Stanford
  • Dejounte Murray, Washington
  • Elgin Cook, Oregon
  • Josh Scott, Colorado

Defining moment of the season: Oregon ends Arizona’s 49-game home win streak

CBT Prediction: Oregon’s the pick here, but it would not be a surprise if any of the top four teams left Vegas with the crown.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: Washington pulls off a stunning comeback

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GAME OF THE DAY: Washington 87, USC 85

With 14:18 remaining in the game, USC led 66-44 and appeared poised to complete a road sweep of the Washington schools on the first weekend of Pac-12 play. Obviously things didn’t go as planned for the Trojans, who without Julian Jacobs (left the game early in the second half with a left foot injury) unraveled against Washington’s defensive pressure.

Dejounte Murray led Washington with 29 points, and an Andrew Andrews layup gave the Huskies an 86-85 lead with 25 seconds remaining. Jacobs, Jordan McLaughlin and Bennie Boatwright scored 15 apiece for the Trojans in defeat, as 12 second-half turnovers opened the door for a Husky comeback.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 8 Arizona 94, Arizona State 82: This game turned about halfway through the second half as Gabe York knocked down three huge three-pointers, resulting in the Wildcats winning in Tempe for the first time in three years. Also of note in this one: Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley was ejected in the game’s final minute.

Ohio State 75, Illinois 73: Marc Loving scored 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds as the Buckeyes held off the shorthanded Fighting Illini in Columbus. The difference came at the foul line, where Ohio State outscored the visitors 28-9. Illinois attempted 32 three-pointers, making 12, but they were unable to make up for the free throw disparity or the fact that Ohio State scored ten more points in the paint (30-20).

Oregon State 70, Oregon 57: Wayne Tinkle’s Beavers controlled the game from start to finish as they beat the rival Ducks in Corvallis. Playing in his first conference game Tres Tinkle led five Beavers in double figures with 19 points to go along with six rebounds. Tinkle and fellow frosh Stephen Thompson Jr. combined to score 29 points off the bench, and defensively Oregon State kept Oregon from getting out in transition. Oregon didn’t score a single fast break point and shot just 35.8 percent from the field.

STARRED

Marshall’s James Kelly: Kelly accounted for 27 points and 11 rebounds in the Thundering Herd’s win over Western Kentucky.

Washington’s Dejounte Murray: The freshman scored 29 points and grabbed five rebounds in a stunning comeback win over USC.

George Washington’s Tyler Cavanaugh: Cavanaugh accounted for 21 points, ten rebounds and three assists in the Colonials’ 69-63 win over Fordham.

STRUGGLED

Hampton’s Akim Mitchell: Mitchell missed all seven of his shots from the field, scoring four points in the Pirates’ 30-point home loss to Princeton.

Bradley’s Ronnie Suggs: He had a hard time against the Wichita State backcourt Sunday afternoon, shooting 2-for-10 from the field and committing three turnovers on the 85-58 defeat.

USC’s Jordan McLaughlin: McLaughlin had a rough go of it in the second half of USC’s loss at Washington, committing seven of their 12 second-half turnovers.

Oregon’s Dwayne Benjamin: Benjamin scored just three points in a loss at Oregon State, shooting 1-for-10 from the field.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Freshman Donovan Mitchell had his best game as a Cardinal, scoring 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds, as No. 18 Louisville outlasted Wake Forest, 65-57. Chinanu Onuaku (15 rebounds) and Damion Lee added 12 points each, while Devin Thomas and Bryant Crawford scored 14 apiece for the Demon Deacons.
  • No. 21 Utah dropped to 0-2 in Pac-12 play with a 71-58 loss at California. The Golden Bears are now 2-0 in league play, and freshman Ivan Rabb scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half to go along with ten rebounds to lead the way. Cal’s now won eight of their last nine games, so how have they managed to turn things around after a bad trip to Las Vegas during Thanksgiving?
  • Also off to an 0-2 start in Pac-12 play is No. 25 UCLA, which lost 85-78 at Washington State. The Bruins have lost their last three games in Pullman, and Sunday night they allowed the Cougars to shoot 55 percent from the field. Josh Hawkinson (ten rebounds) led five Cougars in double figures with 20 points, with UCLA’s Isaac Hamilton scoring a game-high 27.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • James Kelly scored 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Marshall’s 94-76 win over Western Kentucky. The Thundering Herd shot 52.1 percent from the field and forced 19 Hilltopper turnovers.
  • Vermont picked up a nice road win, as they beat Harvard 65-62 at Lavietes Pavilion. Ethan O’Day led the Catamounts with 16 points and Ernie Duncan added 14.
  • Wichita State scored 48 first-half points, beating Bradley 85-58 on the road. Markis McDuffie scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Fred VanVleet added 13 and five assists.
  • South Dakota State moved to 14-3 on the year with a 63-59 win over Western Illinois. The Jackrabbits shot just 33.3 percent from the field but still managed to win, with George Marshall scoring 18 points, Mike Daum 17 and Deondre Parks 16.
  • In a matchup of two of Conference USA’s better teams, UAB erased a 12-point halftime deficit to beat Middle Tennessee 78-67. Robert Brown and Nick Norton scored 14 apiece to lead the way for the Blazers.
  • Hooper Vint posted a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds as UTEP beat North Texas 84-75 in El Paso.
  • Seth Berger and Donte Clark scored 15 points apiece to lead UMass to a 74-67 win at La Salle in the Atlantic 10 opener for both. Jordan Price led all scorers with 23 points, but the Explorers shot 7-for-25 from three.
  • Tyler Cavanaugh scored 21 points and grabbed ten rebounds and Patricio Garino added 12 and nine as George Washington held off Fordham, 69-63.
  • Colorado survived in Palo Alto, beating Stanford 56-55 in a game they led by as many as 16 points. Josh Scott finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Buffaloes, with Stanford’s Michael Humphrey leading all scorers with 19 points.