By the Time I Get to Arizona
Player of the Week
Allonzo Trier, Guard (Arizona)
Arizona may have lost in the second chapter of its showdown with UCLA, but Trier was outstanding. On Saturday against the Bruins, Trier scored a career-high 28 points on 11-14 shooting from the field. He also made three of six three-point attempts. The rest of his team, however, made only two on twelve attempts. Trier was one of my top five prospects from the Pac-12 in the preseason, and he is beginning to make a name for himself with his recent performance. As a freshman last season, Trier showed flashes of his advanced scoring ability, and after sitting out for much of the season due to a PED suspension, he looks even more dangerous offensively. Trier has now scored at least 20 points in three straight games and has demonstrated he can score in a variety ways. On the national spotlight on Saturday, Trier showed deep range on his jump shot, the ability to create his own shot in the mid-range area, and the strength to finish through contact at the rim. Trier has also improved in many areas in his sophomore season. Thus far he has been more efficient form the field and has been a more consistent three-point shooter. He additionally has expanded his game and has become more than just the scorer he was known as last season. Trier is doing a better job of getting his teammates involved, attacking the glass, and limiting his turnovers. Where Trier will really make his money at the next level, however, is his ability to put the ball in the basket. He has decent size for a two guard at 6-5, and has the skillset to be a strong complimentary scorer at the next level. He is not an elite athlete or defensive player, which will prevent him from being an early first-round pick, but his overall scoring prowess will allow him to have a long, successful career at the next level. He's beginning to make a strong push for the first round, should he decide to declare for the draft.
Freshmen of the Week
Lonzo Ball / TJ Leaf, (UCLA)
It was difficult to decide between these two as Leaf was sensational on Thursday night against Arizona State, but Ball ran his team masterfully on the road against Arizona on Saturday. There may not be a better duo of freshmen in all of college basketball than these two (Fox and Monk included). It is a shame that we likely only get to watch them play together for one year, so enjoy them while they’re still wearing blue and gold. Leaf had one of his best games of the season on Thursday night, scoring 25 points on 11-16 shooting from the field, and adding nine rebounds. He was much quieter on Saturday against Arizona but still turned in a nice performance with 12 points and 7 rebounds. However, he did a superb job defensively against Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen, and beat him off the dribble several times. Ball, on the other hand, left Thursday night’s game with an apparent ankle injury. Even though he scored a season-low four points, he tallied 11 rebounds and added five assists, showing his ability to affect the game in a variety of ways. On Saturday his ankle appeared not to constrain him one bit as he scored 11 points and added 8 assists as UCLA collected its most important win of the year. Ball and Leaf both have a lot of offensive ability, but they have also been vital pieces in UCLA’s recent improvement on the defensive end. No team in college basketball can make offense look as easy as the Bruins often do, but the other end of the floor has been an issue at times. They don’t have the personnel to limit teams to under 60 points, but they have limited their last four opponents to under 75 points, including two excellent offensive teams in Arizona and Arizona State. With Ball and Leaf leading a team that averages 92 points per game, that may be all they need to do. If these two can continue to show a commitment to the defensive end as they have of late, the Bruins have a chance to raise a 13th championship banner in the Pauley Pavilion. Regardless, college basketball will sure miss the combination of Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf.
Under the Radar Player
Reid Travis, Forward (Stanford)
Reid Travis is without question one of the most underappreciated players in college basketball. If not for playing on Stanford, Travis would be absorbing as much attention as any frontcourt player in the nation. His numbers this season merit first team all Pac-12, but the fact that he plays for a team well out of contention for the conference title will hurt his case. Against Oregon this week, Travis turned in a herculean performance that almost won Stanford the game, as he scored 27 points and added 14 rebounds. Travis, remarkably, is now third in the conference in scoring and fifth in rebounding. The former McDonald’s All-American in high school has had a breakout junior season after just scratching the surface in his first two years with the Cardinal. Anyone on the Stanford coaching staff will say that Travis has an unmatched work ethic, which is evident in his improvement in nearly every category in each season. Travis does not have great size for an NBA power forward at only 6-8, and he does not excel at stretching the floor like a quintessential modern day 4 man. However, one has to think that his combination of rebounding, motor, and scoring at the rim will warrant a spot on an NBA roster down the road.
Torian Graham, Guard (Arizona State)
Graham is another player whose performance this season has been undermined by the fact that his team is one that will not be playing in the postseason. However, Graham is currently the second leading scorer in the conference at 18.8 points per game. Following a absolutely dismal performance against California a couple weeks ago, Graham has returned to form, averaging 25 points per game over his last four contests. Arizona State has a very thin roster, so Graham has had to play over 35 minutes per game in each game, but he has been unstoppable nonetheless. Against UCLA on Thursday night, Graham poured in 28 points and made seven threes. Graham, a transfer from Portland State is in his final year of eligibility and has made a name for himself this season. Not many people outside of the Pac-12 know his name, but his scoring ability will give him a chance to play at the next level.
Derrick White, Guard (Colorado)
Derrick White has had a terrific season in his final year of eligibility. The former junior college transfer is the fourth leading scorer in the Pac-12 at 17.3 points per game. Against Utah, he scored 31 points, marking the third time in the last four game she has scored over 20 points. White also continues to show that he is more than just a scorer, as he added five assists and six rebounds against the Utes. Colorado’s terrible start to conference play is going to cost them a postseason bid, but that should not downplay how good White has been for them this season. His explosiveness and versatility on the offensive end have made him one of the most dangerous players in the conference. It is difficult to project his fit at the next level, as he is undersized for a two-guard and he does not do one single thing exceptionally well, but given his production this season, he will have a chance to impress NBA evaluators following the end of the season.
Isaac Hamilton, Guard (UCLA)
Hamilton spent much of the early part of the season as UCLA’s leading scorer, but he has really struggled offensively in his last seven games. Since his 20-point game against USC, Hamilton has scored in double figures just three times and has struggled with his shot. UCLA may have earned a huge win over Arizona this weekend, but Hamilton was pretty much nonexistent, shooting just 3-12 from the field. He also shot just 1-5 from the field against Arizona State in Thursday. Since the USC game, Hamilton is also shooting just 6-30 from three-point range, and his percentage is down to under 35%. Hamilton is a much better offensive player than what he has shown as of late. He has the ability to heat up in a hurry, and UCLA will need him to return to his mid-season form. They might still be able to score easily even if he continues to struggle, but for UCLA to really make a push for the Final Four, he will need to shoot the ball better than he has been lately.
Most Likely Final Four Contenders
1. UCLA Bruins
The Pac-12 has three teams that could all easily make a deep tournament run, but the edge goes to UCLA. They are the best offensive team in the country. The key for them will be if they can play well enough defensively. If that happens and they shoot the ball as well as they are capable of, then they have as good of a chance as anybody. Lonzo Ball may be just a freshman, but he seems unfazed by pressure. UCLA has a dangerous combination of talented freshmen and veteran leaders who can guide them deep into March. This is a National Title contender as talented as anyone.
2. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks are probably the best all-around team both offensively and defensively. They also have a go-to scorer in Dillon Brooks, who has been playing like one the best players in college basketball lately. They also have a lot of depth and experience, which is what makes them scary. Last season they made the Elite 8, and returned most of their team this season. The Ducks know what it takes to make a similar run and it is easier to get over the hump in their second try.
3. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona has a lot of athleticism and is very good defensively. The question for them will be if they can make enough shots from the perimeter to carry them deep into the tournament. We saw this weakness exposed on Saturday when UCLA played a 3-2 zone and completely disrupted Arizona’s rhythm offensively. This team has the talent but they are young, and somebody outside of Allonzo Trier will need to make shots from the outside. Lauri Markkanen will also need to find a way to get hot from the outside again.
4. USC Trojans
USC is similar to Arizona, although they are not quite as talented. They have a lot of size and are very athletic, but they are inconsistent offensively. USC realistically will not contend for the Final Four, but they do have the ability to win a couple games in the tournament if things fall into place.
5. California Goldern Bears
There are several talented players on this roster, but the Golden Bears do not have much depth. Ivan Raab is a first-round talent and Jabari Bird is a terrific player as well. The possibility of California making a deep run is also a bit farfetched, so they will need to be almost perfect to have a realistic chance.