LEFT COAST LAYUPS WITH RAPHIELLE JOHNSON
Could Tony Wroten be the Pac-12′s best player?
By Raphielle Johnson
To say the least it hasn’t been the best of seasons for either the Pac-12 Conference, as the league struggled to pick up credible non-conference victories in November and December. Those issues led many to believe that the conference could struggle to earn three NCAA Tournament bids, which would be another blow in the steady decline of this proud league. There have been personnel issues for many teams, primarily in a freshman recruiting class that hasn’t panned out as expected thus far.
But a freshman could very well be the conference’s best player, something few expected to see happen just a couple of weeks ago. Washington guard Tony Wroten is one of the most explosive players at his position, but harnessing that skill has been an issue at times for the Seattle native. Some his exploits came at the expense of the team, with the Huskies boasting a less than stellar 5-5 record in mid-December. But in the Huskies’ current three-game win streak Wroten has been the catalyst, and it’s safe to say that Washington needs him to be if they’re to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Wroten leads the team in scoring with an average of 16.8 points per game, a number that ranks second in the Pac-12, while also dishing out 3.4 assists and grabbing 4.8 rebounds. According to Ken Pomeroy’s website Wroten accounts for 34.8% of Washington’s possessions, a number that ranks fifth nationally. The issue for Wroten has been with his efficiency, as his offensive rating of 95.9 is the worst of Washington’s major contributors. But this is where the argument of “numbers vs. visual reality” comes into play.
Simply put, the Huskies need Wroten to be that guard who aggressively looks to make things happen. Point guard Abdul Gaddy, who leads the team with 5.1 assists per game, isn’t the kind of guard that presses the action. The same goes for the gifted C.J. Wilcox, who ranks among the best perimeter shooters in the country but is more reliant on others creating his good looks for him instead of creating for himself. And in wing Terrance Ross the Huskies have one of the Pac-12′s most gifted players, but he isn’t as aggressive as Wroten either.
Throughout the Lorenzo Romar era the Huskies have been most successful when they have guards who apply pressure to opponents on either end of the floor. Be it the versatility of a Brandon Roy, the explosiveness of a Nate Robinson of the lethal scoring punch of an Isaiah Thomas, Washington tends to flourish when they have a guard like this. Wroten is most capable of being that guy for Washington this season, and he’s only going to get better as the season wears on. That Pac-12 Player of the Week award may be tip of the iceberg for the future pro.
Player of the Week: Montana guard Will Cherry
Averaged 18.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in the Grizzlies’ wins over Portland State and Eastern Washington.
Game to Watch: Weber State at Eastern Washington (Thursday, 9:05 PM)
With their split of games at Montana State and Montana, EWU needs to avoid falling two games behind the pack if they’re to entertain any thoughts of winning the Big Sky. But with preseason favorite Weber State visiting this is the perfect opportunity for Colin Chiverton and company to pull even in the loss column. Weber State will counter with the nation’s leading scorer in Damian Lillard, which should make for a fun matchup.
Vikings off to 0-2 start: One of the surprising outcomes from the first week of conference play was Portland State’s 86-73 loss at Montana State, dropping the Vikings to 0-2 in the Big Sky. What was surprising was the margin and not the result, as PSU is now 0-8 on the road this season. They’ll need players to step up and help out Charles Odum (23.5 ppg) and Chehales Tapscott, who has posted a league-best six double-doubles this season, if they’re to make any kind of noise within the conference.
Player of the Week: UC Irvine guard Derrick Flowers
Scored 21 points in the Anteaters’ 71-62 win at Cal-State Northridge. Before that game Flowers’ career-high was nine points.
Game to Watch: Cal-State Fullerton at UCSB (Thursday, 10 PM)
Two of the three teams that remain undefeated in conference play meet on Thursday in Santa Barbara in what should be a big game for the visitors from a credibility standpoint. The Titans have won seven straight games, and the surplus of four-year transfers at Bob Burton’s disposal have stepped up in a big way. The matchup between Fullerton’s D.J. Seeley and Kwame Vaughn and UCSB’s talented duo of Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally is one of the best of the week out west.
Robinson makes history: In Long Beach State’s 74-60 win over UC Irvine on Monday night senior forward T.J. Robinson became the fourth player in the history of the Big West to surpass the career marks of 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. The other three players: Tony Neal (Fullerton), Stacey Augmon (UNLV) and Greg Grant (Utah State). The 14-point, 13-rebound game was Robinson’s 44th career double-double.
Player of the Week: New Mexico forward Drew Gordon
Averaged 20.5 points and 14.0 rebounds per game in the Lobos’ wins over New Mexico State and Saint Louis.
Game to Watch: Wyoming at Utah Valley (Tuesday, 9:05 PM)
With the Mountain West getting smaller this turns out to be a lean week for the conference scheduling-wise (similar to what the Ivy League goes through at this point in the year), meaning that Wyoming’s trip to Utah Valley is the best game on the slate. Larry Shyatt’s done an impressive job of turning the Cowboys around, but they need to be careful as the Wolverines will be looking to avenge their 74-41 loss in Laramie on November 30th.
SDSU into the polls: Steve Fisher’s club is now ranked in both polls as a result of the USA Today Coaches’ Poll ranking the Aztecs 25th this week. Last week marked San Diego State’s season debut in the Associated Press poll, and they’ve won five straight and nine of their last ten games. Games against San Diego Christian and Chicago State should offer little in the way of resistance for SDSU, but things ramp up quickly as they open league play with UNLV and New Mexico back-to-back.
Player of the Week: Washington guard Tony Wroten
Averaged 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the Huskies’ wins over Oregon State and Oregon.
Game to Watch: Arizona at UCLA (Thursday, 11 PM)
Having dropped both of their games last weekend to start conference play 0-2, it goes without saying that UCLA needs to right the ship. That task will be tough however as an Arizona team that seems to be figuring things out arrived in LA having won three straight and four of their last five games. Senior Jesse Perry is a workhorse inside while also having the ability to step out and knock down perimeter shots, and Arizona’s overall mobility up front could be an issue for Joshua Smith.
Oregon State also 0-2: Around Thanksgiving, Oregon State had the look of a team poised to contend for the Pac-12 title. But in losing their first two league games to the Washington schools the Beavers had the look of a team that would struggle on the defensive end of the floor. Two nights after giving up 95 in a loss at Washington, Oregon State allowed 81 points in their loss at Washington State. Quite the shift for a team that leads the conference in scoring defense (68.1 ppg allowed).
Player of the Week: BYU forward Brandon Davies
Averaged 21.0 points and 14.0 rebounds per game in two games for the Cougars, who lost at Saint Mary’s and beat San Diego in Provo.
Game to Watch: Santa Clara at Gonzaga (Saturday, 8 PM)
Losing Marc Trasolini before the season began was a tough blow for Kerry Keating’s team as it sapped their interior depth. That could be an issue for the Broncos on Saturday as they take on Gonzaga, as the Bulldogs have arguably the deepest frontcourt in the WCC. In addition to Elias Harris and Robert Sacre there’s Sam Dower off the bench to contend with, meaning that Santa Clara will need everyone to chip in on the boards. They’ll also need big nights from Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore if they’re to pick up their first road win of the season (0-3).
Welcome to the WCC: BYU visited Saint Mary’s in their first game as a WCC member last week, and the Gaels were anything but hospitable in their 98-82 win. SMC shot 55.4% from the field and Rob Jones led four starters in double figures with 24 points and 15 rebounds. With these two teams and Gonzaga the WCC looks like a strong candidate for three NCAA Tournament bids right now.
Player of the Week: San Jose State guard Keith Shamburger
Averaged 17.0 points, 7.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in wins over Coppin State and Seattle.
Game to Watch: Nevada at Utah State (Saturday, 9 PM)
Stew Morrill’s Aggies haven’t been unbeatable at home but they’re still a very tough out in Logan, and that could mean trouble for the visiting Wolf Pack. But led by Malik Story and Deonte Burton, David Carter’s team has won seven straight and ten of their last eleven games. With the WAC’s computer numbers fitting the profile of a one-bid league, getting that regular season crown and the top seed in the conference tournament that comes with it will be critical.
Kabongo leaves NMSU: About two weeks after being reinstated to the team following a suspension for making obscene gestures in a game against UTEP, sophomore guard Christian Kabongo has decided to transfer. This is a big loss for the Aggies, who lose 14.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game with his departure. Wendell McKines and Hernst Laroche will now shoulder more of the load offensively, and others will need to step up as well.
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