Player of the Week
Lauri Markkanen, Forward (Arizona)
Markkanen has been one of the most pleasant surprises in all of college basketball this season. We knew the European seven-footer was talented, but he ironically wasn’t even Arizona’s most heralded recruit in the preseason. Both Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons were the ones creating the most buzz in Tucson. However, it’s probably safe to say that to this point in the season, Markkanen has not only been Arizona’s best freshman, but their best player as well. He has already established himself as one of the best freshman in the Pac-12 and probably the entire country, but what he’s been doing lately has been unbelievable. Over the last two weeks, Markkanen is averaging over 23 points per game and shooting an absurd 72% from three-point range, while attempting over five shots from beyond the arc per game during that stretch. The Wildcats have now won 12 games in a row, including a huge upset win on the road against No. 3 ranked UCLA where Markkanen scored 18 points on 6-10 shooting (3-4 3s). He played a vital role in knocking off both teams from the Los Angeles area as he scored 23 points on 8-12 shooting (5-6 3s) against USC two days earlier. In this day and age where the stretch four is highly coveted among NBA teams, Markkanen seems like the prototypical player for this role. He may be the best shooter in the entire draft regardless of position. He’s also a high IQ player and has shown potential as a rim protector. Markkanen now is second among Pac-12 freshmen in scoring and continues to play better as the moment gets bigger. In a loaded freshman class, Markkanen has been one of the best of them in all of college basketball. Also, now that Alonzo Trier is back in the Arizona lineup, the Wildcats are now serious contenders for the conference title.
Markelle Fultz, Forward (Washington)
After the week Fultz just turned in, it’s easy to see why NBA scouts are drooling over his game. Fultz has been in the conversation for the top-overall selection in the upcoming draft all year long, and he continues to make a strong case with numerous sensational performances. Saturday against Utah was the third time in a row that Fultz scored over 30 points, which is something you don’t see very often from any college basketball player especially a freshman. What’s remarkable, however, is that every team in the Pac-12 knows how good he is, and even when they plan their entire defensive game plan around him, they still can’t stop him. All three of those thirty point games were also done with remarkable efficiency. In all three of those games, Fultz made over half his shots from the field. Furthermore, even though he’s scoring at such a high rate, he’s still making an impact in several other areas, averaging five assists and six rebounds during the span. Fultz’s stats may be slightly inflated due to the lack of additional high-profile talent around him, but his production and efficiency with his workload is spectacular. He’s now averaging 23.1 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.2 assists. His all around game, athleticism, and versatility make him a can’t miss prospect in this year’s draft.
It was hard to identify one single player to be under this category for this week, but Colorado’s team struggles have been more concspicuous than any individual player lately. The Buffaloes have now dropped their first seven games, including their last two to Washington and Washington State. Both of those teams are games Colorado should be winning. For a while, Colorado looked like a potential sleeper in the Pac-12, but after an 0-7 start in conference play, that possibility seems much less likely. Three of the losses were to ranked teams in UCLA, Arizona, and USC, but they just haven’t looked that competitive in those contests. During their losing streak, they’re giving up over 83 points per game, which is well above their season average of 72.8. UCLA is an exceptional offensive team, but you can’t expect to have a chance when you give up 104 points to them. They also allowed 85 and 91 points to Washington and Washington State, respectively, which are two teams who have almost no chance to compete for the conference championship. The Buffaloes are now tied with Oregon State for last place in the conference. Even if they begin to turn things around, it already seems like they’ve dug themselves to deep a hole to get back in the race.
Most Surprising Players/Teams
1.[Lauri Markkanen], Forward, Arizona
2.Bryce Alford/UCLA, Guard (UCLA)
Alford’s shooting ability was obvious even before this season began. He had put up some good numbers in his first three seasons as a Bruin. However, now he is not only averaging a career high in scoring, but he has also increased both his field goal percentage and three-point percentage by over ten percent. Alford is UCLA’s leading scorer at 17.2 points per game and is arguably the best senior in the Pac-12. He’s played a pivotal role in helping UCLA ascend to one of the highest-scoring teams in the NCAA. Despite, the influx of new talent this season, not many people expected UCLA to be as impressive as they’ve been so far this season. It will be a closely contested contest with Oregon and Arizona, but the Bruins will have a great chance to come out on top of the conference at the end of the year.
3.Kyle Kuzma/Utah, Forward (Utah)
Kuzma has been fantastic for the Utes this season, and he has elevated his game since the start of conference play. Kuzma is averaging 15.3 points and 10 rebounds per game, which both lead the team. Since the start of Pac-12 play, he is averaging 16.5 points per game and has rebounded in double-digits in five out of seven games. Utah is also off to a 5-2 start in conference play and has looked like a potential sleeper. Their two losses were to UCLA and Arizona, arguably the two best teams in the Pac-12, but they held their own in both matchups. Utah was another team in the offseason with a lot of roster turnover and uncertainties, but so far they have exceeded expectations. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, but if the Utes can sustain there current track, they’ll be in good shape.
4.Charlie Moore, Guard (California)
In such an unbelievably talented freshman class, Moore was almost an unknown coming into the season. Moore’s numbers haven’t been as eye opening recently as they were at the beginning of the season, but he’s been a nice addition for the Golden Bears this season. He’s second on the team in scoring behind only prized sophomore Ivan Raab. Moore is also the team leader in assists and is shooting close to 40% from beyond the arc. California does not have a ton of support outside their trio of Raab, Moore, and Jabari Bird, so he’ll need to play well for California to have a shot. If he can continue to shine for California, they could easily punch another ticket to the NCAA tournament.
Sean Miller this season is really beginning to show why he is one of the most highly regarded coaches in college basketball. Arizona is off to an 18-2 start to this season, including a 7-0 start in the Pac-12. After Ray Smith retired prior to the season and Alonzo Trier was suspended, Miller was forced to rely on a freshman heavy roster without a lot of depth. The Wildcats, however, have been one of the top defensive teams in the country and Lauri Markkanen has been sensational. Now that Trier is back in the lineup, look out.