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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.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Buddy Hield headlines Iowa-centric list

Buddy Hield (AP Photo)
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As we do on every Tuesday, we’ll spend the afternoon counting down the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings.

If you’d like to be updated more quickly, be sure to go follow the CBT Facebook page, where the countdown will actually be happening.

There haven’t been too many changes, but there are a few names that you should start keeping more of an eye on.

Here’s the list:

POSTERIZED: Gary Payton II’s up to his usual tricks

Associated Press
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Oregon State senior guard Gary Payton II has thrown down some impressive dunks this season. Of course the most notable was his vicious dunk against Kansas in Kansas City, but there was also the 360 in a half-court set against Cal-State Fullerton in mid-December.

Sunday night, the son of the point guard who led Oregon State to its last NCAA tournament appearance in 1990 added another highlight to his personal reel in the Beavers’ 70-57 win over Oregon.

Oregon’s Chris Boucher, who’s averaging 3.3 blocks per game, attempted to rotate over to defend the basket against a hard-charging Payton II. But it didn’t matter, as Payton II took off and threw down an impressive one-handed dunk.

Payton II scored all 12 of his points in the second half Sunday night, with teammates such as Langston Morris-Walker (11 first-half points) and Tres Tinkle (nine first-half points) picking up the slack in the game’s first 20 minutes. Also of note in the win was Oregon State’s defense, which limited Oregon to 35.8 percent shooting and zero fast break points.

PAC-12 CONFERENCE RESET: League balance should make for fun race

Associated Press
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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Pac-12.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jakob Poeltl, Utah

Poeltl made the decision to return to Salt Lake City for his sophomore season, and the strides he’s made in his skill set have been highly impressive. Poeltl’s currently averaging 17.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per contest for the Runnin’ Utes, shooting 71.2 percent from the field. His post moves have more polish, and he’s raised his foul shooting some 20 percentage points from a season ago (64.6 from 44.4 last season).

ALL PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah
  • Gary Payton II, Oregon State
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA
  • Ryan Anderson, Arizona
  • Josh Scott, Colorado

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. There may not be a dominant team, but the Pac-12 doesn’t lack for depth either: In each of the last two seasons Arizona has been the clear class of the conference, winning the regular season title by three games both years. Sean Miller’s team remains the favorite heading into conference play this week, but the gap is much smaller with multiple teams harboring hopes of grabbing the top spot. Oregon is finally approaching full strength health-wise, Utah has the conference’s best player to this point in Poeltl, and neither UCLA nor California lacks for talent. Add in solid starts from teams such as Colorado, Arizona State and Oregon State, and an early surprise in USC, and there’s a lot to choose from in the Pac-12.
  2. California needed time to figure out its rotation: With the return of Tyrone Wallace and the additions of Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, it was assumed by many that the Golden Bears would simply hit the ground running and take the Pac-12 by storm. But there was the need for a change in the rotation, as Jabari Bird moved into the sixth man role as Kameron Rooks shook off the rust that came from missing all of last season with a torn ACL. While this may not be the “best five” lineup many envisioned for Cal, with Brown playing the four, the pieces seem to fit better with this setup. Heading into conference play on the heels of their most impressive win of the season, Cal is a team to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 race.
  3. UCLA is at its best when their improved big men see consistent touches: With five players averaging double figures, Steve Alford doesn’t lack for scoring options in Westwood. But at times his guards can get a bit shot happy, thus neglecting to get the ball inside, where UCLA has an advantage over most teams. That hasn’t occurred as often this season, and senior Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh have taken advantage. Parker’s (13.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg) raised his scoring average by two points from a season ago but his rebounding average is up by more than three boards per game. Welsh (12.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg) has built upon a summer spent winning gold with the United States U19 team at the FIBA World Championships. When the ball goes inside things tend to open up offensively for the Bruins, who have also received improved play from Isaac Hamilton.

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Can Utah get consistent play from the point guard position: The loss of Delon Wright was expected to be a big one; you don’t lose a player of his caliber and not feel some sort of impact. That being said, the guard play for the Runnin’ Utes has been inconsistent thus far. Junior college transfer Lorenzo Bonam is getting a little more comfortable in Larry Krystkowiak’s system, but there are still some strides to be made if he’s to lead this group to the top of the Pac-12. What’s of even greater importance is that they get Brandon Taylor, who has struggled from a consistency standpoint and is shooting just 35.9 percent from the field, back on track.
  2. Will the Kadeem Allen/Parker Jackson-Cartwright PG tandem hold up for Arizona: To this point in the season the two-headed attack has worked, with the notable exception of their loss to Providence at the DirecTV Wooden Legacy (Kris Dunn’s pretty doggone good). Allen’s been the more productive of the two scoring-wise and as a defender, but Jackson-Cartwright has done a better job of taking care of the basketball. Neither will fully replace T.J. McConnell because of what he gave the Wildcats from a leadership standpoint, but that’s OK given some of Arizona’s veterans at other positions. How well this two-man rotation works will have a major impact on Arizona’s Pac-12 title hopes.
  3. How long with it take Oregon to mesh its pieces together once healthy: The Ducks have been navigating injury issues since the season began, with Jordan Bell and Dylan Ennis missing the most time. Now that Ennis is back in the fold Oregon can begin to evaluate certain lineups in hopes of finding the best possible lineups to put on the floor. Casey Benson’s taken care of the ball at the point in Ennis’ absence, but the former Villanova guard gives the Ducks a point guard capable of either scoring or distributing the basketball.

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: UCLA has a 9-4 record, due in part to their lack of consistency. But the Bruins do have a win over Kentucky to their credit, and they’re no shame in losing to the likes of Kansas and North Carolina either. And the losses to Monmouth and Wake Forest aren’t crippling defeats either. Steve Alford’s team gets three of its first five Pac-12 games at home, and the two on the road (the Washington schools this week) are manageable.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: California entered this season with expectations of winning the Pac-12, and that goal remains on the table. But a look at their résumé reveals a lack of marquee wins when it comes to the NCAA tournament selection process. The Golden Bears do have home wins over Saint Mary’s and Davidson to their credit, but losing to San Diego State and missing out on a shot at West Virginia hurt, as did blown leads in the second half and overtime that led to their loss at Virginia. They’ll be fine, but their résumé means that Cal’s margin for error is smaller when it comes to getting an at-large bid.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: This is tough given the head coaching changes made by Pac-12 programs last spring. With that being the case the coach under pressure to get thing done in Pac-12 play may be Lorenzo Romar at Washington, even with the amount of success he’s enjoyed in Seattle. The Huskies haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2011, and with a roster loaded with newcomers ending that streak may prove difficult. What helps is the aforementioned roster, and the landing of an elite guard for next season in Markelle Fultz.

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Arizona: No Kaleb Tarczewski in recent weeks due to an ankle injury, but Dusan Ristic has raised his production with more playing time. Ryan Anderson’s been excellent, and Allonzo Trier’s been a key addition for Sean Miller.
  • 2. Oregon: The Ducks’ issues boil down to one word: injuries. Dylan Ennis is back, giving Dana Altman the full rotation he expected before the season began. Dylan Brooks has improved, and the addition of Chris Boucher has been key for a team that was without Jordan Bell for a significant portion of non-conference play.
  • 3. UCLA: Isaac Hamilton enters conference play on the best stretch of his college career, which is an important development for Steve Alford’s team. The key for the Bruins will be to continue to get Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh paint touches, which in turn opens things up for Hamilton and Bryce Alford.
  • 4. Utah: Poeltl’s been outstanding to this point in the season, but the Runnin’ Utes have to solidify their perimeter rotation. Brandon Taylor’s struggled for much of the season, and Lorenzo Bonam is still working to get fully comfortable in Larry Krystkowiak’s system. Get the guards going, and Utah can be a major player in the league race.
  • 5. California: The Golden Bears may have lost three of the biggest games on their schedule to date (San Diego State, Richmond and Virginia), but that isn’t a reason to give up on Cuonzo Martin’s team. Cal put forth its best performance of the season Monday night in a win over Davidson, and they’ve got a talented roster led by senior guard Tyrone Wallace.

NIT teams

  • 6. Colorado: Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes are off to a good start despite not having the injured Xavier Johnson. Josh Scott’s healthy and playing well in the post, and redshirt sophomore George King’s been the impact player many expected him to be. The combination of talent and Boyle’s coaching chops could push CU even higher up the pecking order.
  • 7. Arizona State: Bobby Hurley was successful in his first season at Buffalo in 2013-14, and he has a group capable of duplicating that. The keys for the Sun Devils: Tra Holder’s continued development, and when leading scorer and rebounder Savon Goodman can return to the floor.
  • 8. Oregon State: The Beavers may be a year away from having expectations of ending their tournament drought, but that does senior guard Gary Payton II no good. And Payton’s good enough to lead Wayne Tinkle’s team, which has some quality freshmen, to the brink.
  • 9. USC: Andy Enfield’s Trojans appeared to be “one year away,” but their performance in non-conference play has raised the team’s confidence. Freshman Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright have been solid contributors, but the biggest key has been a healthy Jordan McLaughlin.

Autobid or bust

  • 10. Stanford: Injuries have been the story for the Cardinal, who lost expected starting point guard Robert Cartwright for the season and Reid Travis being out for the time being as well. Balanced offensively, Johnny Dawkins will need Rosco Allen and Dorian Pickens to be even better than they have been of late.
  • 11. Washington: Young players such as Marquese Chriss have shown promise in non-conference play, but as expected of teams with many newcomers the consistency hasn’t been there. That’s likely to be an issue throughout conference play as well.
  • 12. Washington State: The Cougars have some talented players, most notably one of the Pac-12’s best front court players in junior Josh Hawkinson. But they’re the lone Pac-12 team outside of the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency, which could be an issue in conference play.

POSTERIZED: Gary Payton II dunks better Gary Payton I

AP
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Gary Payton II is the most underrated player in the country.

He’s averaging 16.4 points, 8.1 boards, 4.9 assists and 3.3 steals for Oregon State, all team highs.

But that’s not what he does best.

What he does best is dunk.

See?:

I’m not going to lie, my favorite part might be No. 12’s reaction:

College Basketball’s Under The Radar Stars

Kyle Collinsworth (Getty Images)
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Deandre Bembry, St. Joseph’s

The 6-foot-6 small forward does a little bit of everything for the Hawks. His numbers last season: 17.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.6 apg and 1.9 spg. There’s a reason that the junior’s been climbing up NBA Draft boards despite the fact that he plays for a St. Joseph’s team that is fairly far removed from the Atlantic 10 title race. Oh, and he may have the best hair in college hoops.

[MORE: Top 100 players | CBT Top 25]

Robert Carter, Maryland

As a sophomore at Georgia Tech, Carter averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 boards. But that was nearly two years — and 25 pounds — ago, and that was also on a bad Georgia Tech team. Carter is now on a very good Maryland team, and he’s going to play a critical role for a group that has a shot at winning a national title. You wouldn’t know that based on the preseason hype, however. Melo Trimble, Jake Layman and Diamond Stone are the three guys with NBA Draft hype entering the season, and the circumstances surrounding Rasheed Sulaimon’s transfer to the Terps make him the more interesting discussion point. But if you talk to people around the Maryland program, Carter may end up being the Terps’ best player.

Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

Collinsworth set a single-season record and tied the NCAA’s career record for triple-doubles last season for the Cougars, finishing with six. He played 33 games, meaning that once every 5.5 games, Collinsworth posted a triple-double. If Collinsworth suited up, there was an 18.2 percent chance that he’d post a triple-double. Think about that for a second. For comparison’s sake, in Kentucky’s illustrious basketball history, they’ve had one triple-double.

One.

Collinsworth had six last season.

Jack Gibbs, Davidson

Bob McKillop had his best post-Steph team at Davidson this past season, and the engine of that group was the 6-foot Gibbs. Just a sophomore last season, Gibbs averaged 16.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.7 boards with shooting splits of 47.9/42.5/85.6. He’s not Steph Curry — no one is, or ever will be — but he led the Wildcats from being predicted to finish at the bottom of the league to an A-10 title.

RELATED: NBCSports All-Americans | Best Freshman | Breakout Stars

Daniel Hamilton (AP Photo)
Daniel Hamilton (AP Photo)

Daniel Hamilton, UConn

When you think of recent UConn teams, you think of dynamic, personality-laden lead guards. Kemba Walker won a national title and turned the reins over to Shabazz Napier, who, three years later, won a title of his own. Last year, this was Ryan Boatright’s team and this season, Kevin Ollie’s back court includes senior Sterling Gibbs and freshman Jalen Adams. But this season, the best Husky might end up being Hamilton, a 6-foot-7 wins that averaging 10.9 points, 7.6 boards and 3.7 assists as a freshman. Here’s the thing about Hamilton: He entered UConn with the reputation for being a gunner, a player that bordered on selfish who looked for his shot first, second and third. He finished his freshman season leading the team in rebounding — he led the AAC in rebounding during league play, averaging 9.1 boards — and second in assists. He could very well end up being the AAC Player of the Year this season.

Danuel House, Texas A&M

House was one of the biggest surprises in college basketball last season mainly because he was declared immediately eligible for the Aggies three games into the season. Seriously. Billy Kennedy’s club struggled through their first two games at a tournament in Puerto Rico the week before Thanksgiving and won the third game of the event when House played and scored 18 points in 29 minutes. On the season, he averaged 14.8 points, as the former five-star recruit helped lead the Aggies to within a win or two of the NCAA tournament. His return, along with the addition of a talented recruiting class, is a major reason pundits believe A&M can finish second in the SEC.

Hassan Martin, Rhode Island

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better defensive player in college basketball than Martin, a 6-foot-7, 230 pound forward that finished his sophomore season averaging 3.1 blocks. Danny Hurley has stockpiled quite a bit of talent on URI’s roster, with guys like E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell and Kuran Iverson in the fray, but Martin’s ability to anchor the defense is just as important as any of those three players.

Sheldon McClellan, Miami

McClellan’s career has been played in relative anonymity. He played two years at Texas, transferring after the disappointing 2012-13 season in which the Longhorns lost in the first round of the CBI to Houston. He left for Miami with little fanfare, a part of the exodus that most believed to be addition by subtraction. After sitting out a season in Coral Gables, McClellan put together a terrific year that was hardly noticed. Miami won 25 games, but went to the NIT. Their two bigs wins, at Florida and at Duke, came when the maddeningly inconsistent Angel Rodriguez went bananas. Quietly, McClellan averaged 14.5 points with shooting splits of 48.4/35.8/82.4.

MORE: Top leads guards | Top off guards | Top Wings | Top Bigs

Gary Payton II, Oregon State

The son of … well, you know, “The Mitten” is arguably the best perimeter defender in college basketball this season. That shouldn’t be at all surprising. He’s also a 6-foot-3 senior that averaged 13.4 points, 7.5 boards and 3.2 assists to go along with those 3.1 steals. Junior’s jumper left much to be desired a season ago, as he shot at just 29.3 percent clip from beyond the arc, but he’s still the biggest reason why an Oregon State tournament appearance isn’t completely out of the question this year.

Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa

Coming out of high school, Uthoff was a top 150 recruit that eventually wound up at Wisconsin, redshirting his freshman season with the Badgers. He left the program in somewhat controversial fashion, as Bo Ryan restricted him from transferring to more than 25 schools. He’d end up sitting out another season as a result, meaning that when he finally did suit up for the Hawkeyes in 2013-14, it had been more than two years since he played a meaningful game. This past season, Uthoff played well as Iowa’s second option, averaging 12.4 points and 6.4 boards, but with Aaron White gone, he’s going to be asked to carry much more of the load this year. He’s good enough to do that, meaning he’s a sleeper to be a first-team all-Big Ten player this year.

Taurean Waller-Prince, Baylor

Waller-Prince came off the bench for the Bears last season and ended up as the program’s leading scorer, averaging 13.9 points and 5.6 boards in just 26 minutes while shooting 39.5 percent from three. Prince’s versatility is what makes him so valuable. He’s strong to play the four if needed, but he can also defend on the perimeter, giving Baylor one of the nation’s most physically imposing front lines.

James Webb III, Boise State

I’ve written plenty about Webb this preseason, and it’s because I think he’s going to have a terrific season for the Broncos. The 6-foot-8 redshirt junior was very impressive at the Nike Skills Academy this summer. He’s long and athletic with range out to the three-point line — he should 40.9 percent out there last season — and will play a critical role for the Broncos this season as they try to find a way to overcome the graduation of Derrick Marks.