There is one weekend left in the Pacific-12 Conference regular season, but the debate has already begun – specifically about the conference’s men’s player of the year.
ESPN helped further the discussion by having its slew of TV and website analysts submit their picks for player of the year and coach of the year for each conference.
And while some selections appear well-founded, others seem uninformed.
To be fair, there’s no easy choice in Pac-12 men’s basketball.
“One of the issues everybody’s going to have is, who’s the one guy that has stood head and shoulders above everybody else?” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “I’m not sure that guy exists, to be honest with you.”
Added UW coach Lorenzo Romar: “Some years, the sentiment is whoever wins the league, the player that’s most productive on that team should get it.”
And if it’s not the top team in the league, then it’s one of the top teams. The last time someone was named top player without being on a top-three team was Arizona State’s Ike Diogu in 2005.
People who follow the conference say this season’s player of the year likely boils down to three players from the league’s two top teams.
So with apologies to Washington State’s Brock Motum, who has had a monster year averaging 17.8 points and 6.6 rebounds a game, and Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham, who leads the Pac-12 in scoring (18.4 points a game) and steals (2.6), the award will come down to California’s do-everything guard Jorge Gutierrez and Washington’s talented guard tandem of Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten.
Is there a favorite?
Gutierrez was a preseason favorite. His numbers don’t jump out at you – 13.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals a game. But it’s the intangibles that coaches love. And he’s also arguably the best defender in the league. He made Cunnigham a non-factor in Corvallis, Ore., and drew two quick charges on Wroten in Seattle to put him on the bench.
“Jorge Gutierrez,” Romar said with a grin. “I think if there was a most inspirational award, he wins by a landslide. He has no peer in that regard in this league. The way he plays, he lays it all on the line, helps his team be successful. He’s pretty impressive that way.”
Ross and Wroten both have significantly better numbers.
Ross, a sophomore, is averaging 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds a game.
Wroten is third in the conference in scoring (16.7), and averages 4.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals a game. If Wroten were to win the award, he would join Cal’s Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1995-96) and UCLA’s Kevin Love (2007-08) as the only freshmen to be named conference player of the year.
Romar wouldn’t openly say one of his players should win the award; that’s not his style. But he offered instances where both played at an MVP level. Like the time Ross carried the Huskies with a 26-point second-half in a comeback win over Washington State, or how Wroten shouldered the load for UW in Tempe, Ariz., with 22 points in a 60-54 win over Arizona State, or most recently with a 21-point effort against the Cougars in Pullman.
“I could go on and on,” Romar said. “If we are fortunate enough to come out on top, you need to give those two guys high, high consideration.”
So which one would he choose?
“That’s too hard for me to say,” Romar said. “I’m glad we have them both.”
It’s an easy call for UW forward Darnell Gant, who emphatically said that if Washington sweeps USC and UCLA this week to win the conference title outright, Gutierrez shouldn’t be in the equation. To the victor go the spoils.
“If we win the league, I feel like one of those two players should get it,” Gant said of Ross and Wroten.
That might help him get over the bitterness he still harbors because Jon Brockman didn’t win the award in 2009, when the Huskies won the league title but James Harden of Arizona State, which finished third, was named the best player.
WASHINGTON (20-8, 13-3 PACIFIC-12 CONFERENCE) AT SOUTHERN CAL (6-23, 1-15)
7:30 p.m., galen center, Los Angeles
TV: None. Radio: 950-AM, 102.9-FM.
Series: The Huskies can even the all-time series with a win as USC holds a 67-66 advantage since the rivalry began in 1925. The Huskies will be playing their sixth game in the Galen Center – USC’s new facility which opened in 2006 – where they are 2-3. Washington defeated USC, 69-41, on Feb. 4 in Seattle.
James Blasczyk C188.8.131.527.054.5
Scouting report: On paper, this doesn’t figure to be much of a matchup. On the court, it probably won’t be much of a matchup, either. USC’s injury problems are well-documented. They have lost four projected starters along with two other players who were forced into starting roles because of other injuries. The Trojans are down to six scholarship players, and can’t wait for the season to get over. To be fair, the team has little chance of competing in the conference but still has played hard for coach Kevin O’Neill. Even if the Huskies were looking past USC for Saturday’s matchup with UCLA, it wouldn’t be enough for the Trojans to pull off the upset. And the Huskies will be focused, knowing that a weekend sweep will earn them the Pac-12 regular-season title. UW coach Lorenzo Romar has made a lineup change, moving senior Darnell Gant back into the starting lineup in place of freshman Desmond Simmons. Gant, who played at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles, figures to be extra motivated getting to play the last conference games of his career in front of friends and family.
Next: 11 a.m. Saturday at UCLA, Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Ryan Divish, staff writer