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Ayton of Talent

Player of the Week

DeAndre Ayton – C – Arizona

DeAndre AytonDeAndre AytonAyton has been phenomenal through the first three games of conference play. In the opener against Arizona State, he scored 23 points on 9-14 shooting to go with 19 rebounds and 3 blocks. The following game, he scored 24 with 14 rebounds and 2 blocks. He then scored 26 and had another 2 blocks in the loss to Colorado.

What is most impressive to me about Ayton is his efficiency. He is shooting 62.5% from the field on the year and over 71% from the line. He even will take the occasional three, shooting 33% on 1.5 attempts per game. This is something he is likely to continue working on to carry into the NBA, where players at all five positions are expected to be able to shoot. His combination of size, speed and athleticism allow him to be a dominant two-way player. He is averaging 1.6 blocks a game to go with 20.4 points and 11.6 rebounds.

Who’s Hot

Aaron Holiday – G – UCLA

Holiday’s fantastic play has led UCLA to a 3-1 in-conference start, the best in the Pac 12 at the moment. He opened with 33 points against Washington State, where he shot 5-5 from three, had 11 rebounds, 4 assists and no turnovers. He had a down game in the win over Washington, but still contributed 14 points to go with 7 rebounds and 5 assists. He then scored 31 in a 2OT loss to Stanford. He also recorded 3 steals. Against Cal, he scored 21 points on 6-10 shooting.

In a year where people expected to hear more about Jaylen Hands than the junior guard, he has really stepped up his play and established himself as the leader of this Bruins team. Playing 37 minutes a game, he is heavily relied on by coach Steve Alford.

Kris Wilkes – F – UCLA

Wilkes has stepped up his contributions for conference play. He scored 21 against Washington on 7-13 shooting. What has impressed me most is the uptick in his three-point percentage. Following up the 21-point game where he was 2-4 from deep, he scored 18 and 16 shooting 2-5 and 4-6 from deep, respectively. Wilkes has emerged as the teams secondary scoring option behind Holiday. He appears ready to step into the role.

One thing I would like to see from Wilkes is more rebounding. At 6’8, 5.4 rebounds per game is a little lower than expected. Additionally, his free throw shooting (currently at 60%) will need to improve if he wants to be regarded as a good shooter and potential three-and-D wing at the next level.

Who’s Not

Don Coleman – G – California

The junior guard’s shooting has cooled off as conference play has gotten underway. Against USC, he shot 1-8 from the field to score 4 points. He had no other contributions outside of a rebound, 3 fouls and 2 turnovers. A player who has the ball in his hands as often as Coleman needs to be able to facilitate on nights where his shot is not falling.

In a loss to UCLA, Coleman scored 16 on 4-15 from the field. Although this is a slightly better scoring output, you would hope for much better efficiency from your leading scorer. Coleman will have to work on his shot selection and distribution if this Cal team wants to have an effective offense. Shooting 37% from the field on 15.5 shots per game will certainly make it tough for a team to be able to keep up with some of the better offenses.

Arizona State (13-2, 1-2)

The last undefeated team in the conference had a rough start to conference play. They had a close game at Arizona that was going to be tough to win, and ended 84-78 in favor of the Wildcats. The next game was a road loss at Colorado, which was a disappointing bounce back effort. Shannon Evans II had an awful two-game stretch, where he shot 3-14 in both losses, going 0-14 from deep combined. The Sun Devils won their last game, 80-77 on the road at Utah. While it is never easy to open conference play with 3 straight road games, the team that was ranked #3 in the nation going into the Arizona game had to be hoping for better. Their next game, home against Oregon, will be a great opportunity to try and gain momentum for the remainder of the season.

Power Rankings

1) Arizona Wildcats (12-4, 2-1)

Despite losing their last game on the road at Colorado, the Wildcats top the rankings in the Pac 12. Teams lose games, and losing by three on the road does not significantly change my outlook on this team. Rawle Atkins is continuing to get back into his groove, having now played 7 games on the season. Ayton is still feasting on smaller defenders. Allonzo Trier has not been great in his past two games, but will go on leading the team and offense. They have yet to lose a game at home, only on the road or at neutral sites. If they can channel their home play in any arena, this is the most dangerous team in the conference.

2) Arizona State Sun Devils (13-2, 1-2)

A tough start in Pac 12 play for the Sun Devils sees them drop to 2 despite having the best record in the conference. Tra Holder played very well against Arizona, scoring 31 and shooting 15-16 from the line. He has not been as effective in his past two games, shooting 8-20 for 24 and 3-10 for 11 while attempting significantly fewer free throws. He also only had 5 assists through three games, down from his 4.2 per game average. Romello White fouled out in 6 minutes against Utah and has been inconsistent with his production. This is a talented team, and if they can find the rhythm that led to their 12-0 start, they should start winning again and climb the conference standings.

3) UCLA Bruins (12-4, 3-1)

It is clear that the Bruins gained momentum from the home win over Kentucky. Despite losing in double OT to Stanford, UCLA has been playing well. Aaron Holiday has been scoring at a higher clip and appears to be the leader of the team. While the team will obviously not reach its preseason potential, there is still a lot of talent. This is a team that can compete with anyone in the Pac 12 if their best players are on. They only play Arizona and Arizona State once each, both on the road and back to back. There will be few opportunities to prove themselves, so they must do it with consistency.

4) Washington Huskies (12-4, 2-1)

The Huskies have had some impressive wins and some terrible losses. They started off conference play with a nice win on the road, 88-81 over USC. Jaylen Nowell has been playing very well. The freshman guard is averaging 16 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists on 49% shooting from the field. This is a team that lacks consistency. They followed up a win in Kansas by getting blown out by 27 points against Gonzaga. If they can get into a groove, this is a very underrated team.

5) Oregon State Beavers (10-5, 2-1)

The Beavers have started off conference play strong, including a nice win at home over their rival, Oregon. Tres Tinkle has continued to lead the team in scoring at 18 points per game. He also averages 7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. Drew Eubanks is shooting 67% from the field on the season, averaging 14 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. Stephen Thompson averages 16.5 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists. This is a talented roster that has had the benefit of their first three conference games being at home. A two-point loss to Utah is a blemish on the record, but they have looked strong all year. The Beavers go to Arizona Thursday for what should be a great test for them.

6) USC Trojans (12-6, 3-2)

USC is a team with a lot of potential looking to get back on track. They started conference play with a loss at home to Washington, and then won two in a row. Following that, they suffered devastating loss to Stanford from a buzzer-beater half-court shot. Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright are both averaging over 16 points and 7 rebounds. Jordan McLaughlin has done a good job running the offense, averaging 8 assists to go with 13 points and 2 steals. This is a talented group that has potential to compete with any team in the conference, but also lose to anyone based on their performance up to this point. A win against Colorado at home last night could be the spark they needed.

7) Colorado Buffaloes (10-7, 2-3)

Putting Colorado this high is somewhat reactionary, but when two consecutive games are upsets over the best teams in your conference, you deserve respect. McKinley Wright IV leads an offense that has been able to keep up with the best of them. He is averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists on the year. While both wins were at home and they lost to significantly inferior teams than they beat on the road, I am optimistic about the Buffaloes’ play for the rest of the season. If a team can upset two elite teams at home, they have the potential to do the same on the road. With that said, they fell short last night in USC, and lost by 12. 7 losses may already be too much to see them in March.

8) Oregon Ducks (11-5, 1-2)

Following a below-average start to conference play, Oregon finds themselves behind in an already weaker-than-usual Pac 12. If they hope to make the tournament, they need to start winning games Elijah Brown is averaging 13 points a game after having 22 and 19 in the two years prior, albeit for UNM against easier competition. Payton Pritchard leads the team averaging 15 points on 47% from the field and 42% from deep. He also contributes 4 rebounds and 4 assists. The Ducks will be given a chance to prove themselves as they go into Arizona State for their next game. A win here could be the boost they need to generate steam for the rest of the season.

9) Utah Utes (10-5, 2-2)

The Utes are an interesting case. They were 0-2 on the road going into conference play, and won their first two on the road against Oregon and Oregon State. They then put up good fights against both Arizona and Arizona State at home, but lost both. While they seem to be playing better, they still have glaring losses such as the 85-58 defeat at the hands of UNLV at home. Justin Bibbins is leading the charge, averaging 13.7 points per game to go with 3 rebounds and 5 assists. He is also shooting very well, at 50% from the field and 46% from deep. He also has a steal a game. Utah has yet to play elite competition, but have done well to be where they are. Only time will tell if they are for real.

10) Stanford Cardinal (8-8, 2-1)

Stanford had a truly awful start to their season, and are still working to come back from it. This team is better than an 8-8 record would otherwise say. They have beaten UCLA and USC in conference play already, and are looking to use that momentum with their next two games being against the Washington teams on the road. Reid Travis is leading the charge on offense, averaging 21 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. The junior forward will need to have a slightly more consistent output if they hope to start winning more games.

11) Washington State Cougars (8-7, 0-3)

The Cougars were certainly hoping for a better start to conference play. A team that was once 6-0 with a win over Saint Mary’s has lost 7 of 9. While their schedule has been tough, opening Pac 12 play on the road against UCLA and USC, they have not put up much of a fight. Robert Franks has been having a breakout season. The 6’7 junior forward is averaging 18 points and 7 rebounds on 48/40/88 shooting to go with a block a game. A game tonight against Stanford is a good chance for them to get a win.

12) California Golden Bears (7-9, 1-2)

The Golden Bears have four players averaging over 12 points a game, but have had a tough season. Their leading scorer, Don Coleman is nowhere near efficient enough to lead an offense. After winning on the road at Stanford to open Pac 12 play, they lost by a large margin at home to both UCLA and USC. If they have any March aspirations, they need to start winning now. Their biggest issue might be their defense, allowing 81.4 points per game, good for 330th best in the nation.

Top 5 Pac 12 Point Guards

1) Tra Holder – Arizona State

Tra Holder is not the player you put in to run your offense and make everyone better, but he is hands down the best point guard in the conference. He will need to get better at distributing though. His 21 points a game is very impressive, but 4.2 assists per game to 2.9 turnovers is really not. While he will continue to impress with his shooting, he should look to grow as a player and guard.

2) Aaron Holiday – UCLA

While Holiday is not a true traditional PG, he is able to lead the team on offense and distribute the ball. His 5.3 APG is good for second best in the Pac 12. Holiday can both score and pass, which is something that almost all next-level guards can do these days. I expect him to continue to improve throughout the season and lead this UCLA team to the tournament.

3) Jordan McLaughlin – USC

The leader in assists by a wide margin, McLaughlin averages 7.7 a game. While the senior guard’s scoring has stayed the same throughout college, his assist numbers have gone up this year. He can still score the ball despite only averaging 13 a game, which was evident last night, scoring 20 against Colorado. He has a 3:1 AST:TO ratio, and also averages 2.2 steals a game. This is the type of player coaches want running their offense.

4) Justin Bibbins – Utah

The 5’8 senior may not get looks from NBA teams due to his size, but the first year Ute has been playing very well. Averaging just under 14 points and 5 assists per game, he also cut down his turnovers to 1.7 a game from 3 last year at LBSU. He also shoots very well, at 50% from the field and 46% from deep.

5) [Player: Parker Jackson-Cartwright] – Arizona

The senior guard is a true point guard. He averages 7.5 points and 5 assists per game. The Wildcats have a lot of weapons, so they do not rely on him to score that often. He fits in very well with this offense, shooting 48% from three. While he will never be the star of the team, this is someone that can be counted on to handle the ball and keep his turnovers low (only 1.5 a game in 30+ MPG).

Freshman Spotlight:

Remy Martin – G – Arizona State

While Martin will not start this year due to the fantastic guard play of the other Sun Devils, he is being given a great opportunity to grow under them and be a good sixth man. The 6’0 guard from California averages 10 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal a game in only 26 minutes. He has also done a good job keeping his turnovers low, at only 1.7.

Next year, Martin will likely be starting and maybe even running the offense. Hopefully, he can continue to grow this season and come back next year ready to lead the team. Martin has the talent to be a great point guard, and I will be excited to watch him throughout his college career.

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