Player of the Week
Lauri Markkanen, Forward (Arizona)
Markkanen just continues to impress and elevate his draft stock. The seven-footer has an unusually advanced skillset for someone his size and is a matchup nightmare for any defender. Markkanen scored a career-high 30 points in the Wildcats’ win over in-state rival Arizona State on Thursday night. He can score in the post with his size or even play on the wing. Not only is he a terrific shooter, but his size also allows him to get his shot off over almost anybody. He has also proven to be a good finisher at the rim and can be used in either pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop. Markkanen’s game will easily translate to the next level as he is a perfect fit as a modern stretch 4 man. He is third in the Pac-12 in scoring among freshmen and has been a pleasant surprise for fans all around the country. In a loaded freshman class, Markkanen has been one of the best in all of college basketball. With Arizona’s unexpected roster turnover at the start of the season, he has stepped up big time and given Arizona a lot of hope this season.
Ivan Raab, Forward (California)
California is starting to hold its own in the Pac-12 after winning three games this week, including a huge road win at USC. Ivan Raab is continuing to be a monster for the Golden Bears both offensively and on the glass. Raab has shown this season that when he stays out of foul trouble and gets his touches, he is a force. He has added some strength, and he has also further developed his skillset, which will increase his stock in a loaded draft class. He has good hands, with the ability to use either hand in the paint. He excels on the offensive glass, finishing put backs and lobs above the rim. The other thing that stands out about Raab is his ability to get to the free throw line, where he converts a solid percentage. Raab has nice touch on his shot and he has good agility and leaps well for a big man. Where he’s been most impressive, however, has been his rebounding. After posting a mammoth 17 point, 20 rebound game against UCLA, Raab recorded two more double doubles this week. He’s not overly strong, but he has great length and motor and excels at getting good position under the basket to go after loose balls. In the last couple of weeks, he’s proved that there aren’t a lot of players who can stop him.
Bryce Alford, Guard (UCLA)
Bryce Alford is simply an outstanding basketball player. Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf, the outstanding freshmen for the Bruins, will get most of the recognition, but Alford’s offensive ability cannot be ignored. He is shooting career highs in field goal percentage and three-point percentage this season. Against Stanford, Alford played an efficient game, scoring 17 points on just six shot attempts. He also made 4-6 three point shots. Then on Thursday against Colorado he was absolutely unstoppable, scoring a career-high 37 points on 11-18 shooting and nine made threes. He has consistently demonstrated that he can be a lethal shooter from behind the arc this season. Following Saturday’s game against Utah, where Alford scored 15 points on 6-12 shooting, Alford has now gone six consecutive games shooting 50% or better. Also, in four of those last six games, he shot better than 60% from the field. Alford is now third in the Pac-12 in scoring, but his efficiency is incredible. Few players in the Pac-12 have the ability to shoot the ball as well as him, but this stretch that Alford is currently going through is second to none.
Elijah Stewart, Guard (USC)
After a hot start for USC, it might be time to admit that they’re not quite as good as many thought. They are very solid defensively, but they have struggled mightily on the offensive end at times this season. The absence of Bennie Boatwright has forced them to lean heavily on their guards, but outside of Jordan McLaughlin they’ve been inconsistent. In an age of college basketball where guard play is absolutely vital, inconsistency won’t get it done. The Trojans have lost three of their last four games after a 14-0 start, and Stewart has struggled since conference play started. In five games, Stewart has only scored in double figures once, including a scoreless game against Utah. In Pac-12 play, Stewart is only shooting 32% from the field and 25% from three-point range. He is shooting 38% from downtown on the season, but he has yet to come alive in conference play. Andy Enfield might have his best team this season since he arrived at USC, but they’re going to need more production from Stewart to reach their full potential.
Top Defensive Teams in the Pac-12
Arizona and Oregon are currently tied for the top scoring defenses in the conference right now, but I give the edge to Arizona for a few reasons. Arizona leads the conference in opponent field goal percentage and opponent three-point percentage. Another aspect to take into account in that the Wildcats are the number one defensive rebounding team in the conference. The ability to force difficult shots is one thing, but when a team can also limit opponents to one shot most possessions, that’s a deadly combination. Sean Miller’s team has exceled in both of those areas thus far. They’re one weakness is rim protection, as they rank last in the conference in blocks. They may not be the deepest team, but they have a lot of athleticism and have been spectacular on the defensive end.
Oregon is second on this list, but the gap is pretty narrow. They are tied for first with Arizona in scoring defense, second in opponent field goal percentage, and third in opponent three-point field goal percentage. The Ducks are also tied for first in blocks per game and lead the league in steals as well. Another thing worth noting is that they’re first in the conference in turnover margin. Defense was a big reason for their deep run in the NCAA tournament last season, and it gives them hope for a similar run this year.
California is third in the conference at scoring defense and is one of only three teams in the Pac-12 holding opponents to under 70 points per game. They also own the third best opponent field goal percentage and fourth best opponent three-point percentage. Cal is also a strong rebounding team, owning the second best rebounding margin in the Pac-12. They are the best rim protecting team in the conference as well, with six blocked shots per contest.
Utah showed how good of a defensive team they were on Saturday night when they held UCLA, arguably the top offensive team in the nation, below their point season average. Utah ranks fourth in the conference in opponents points per game, fourth in opponent field goal percentage, and second in three-point field goal percentage behind only Arizona. They also do a solid job of forcing turnovers as well as take care of the ball on offense, owning the fifth best turnover margin in the conference.
USC has a lot of athleticism, which they use to their advantage on the defensive end. They rank fifth in the conference in opponent points per game, fifth in the conference in opponent field goal percentage, and fifth in the conference in opponent three-point field goal percentage. They also have compiled the fourth most blocks in the Pac-12 and do a great job at forcing turnovers, where they ranked third in steals.