The Pac-10 regular season wrapped up without too much on the court drama. Off the court drama? We had that in spades! But Arizona wrapped up the regular season championship by taking care of the Oregon schools at home, and the L.A. and Washington schools beat each other up in the Northwest to leave NCAA at-large bids appropriately murky. As expected.
But maybe we can drum up a little controversy by naming a few All Pac-10 Teams? Ohio Bear, Avinash and I collaborated to come up with first, second, defense and freshmen teams, and there wasn't much disagreement amongst the pollsters. Perhaps, having generally seen the same games, we Cal fans have similar appreciations for certain players. Or perhaps the best players have separated themselves that there's going to be a high level of consensus amongst fans, media and coaches.
We'll start, of course, with the five best players in the conference:
Point guard: Isaiah Thomas (Washington)
Guard: Jorge Gutierrez (California)
Guard/forward: Klay Thompson (Washington St.)
Forward: Derrick Williams, Player of the Year (Arizona)
Forward/center: Nikola Vucevic (USC)
Thoughts on the first team: Well, that was easy. CGB was 100% unanimous with this foursome, and I'd imagine that the only selection that's particularly debatable is Jorge. But we're not
shameless homers peerless talent evaluators! In any case, Jorge's play during the conference season was phenomenal, and the Pac-10 is hardly overflowing with talented guards this year. I was particularly impressed with Jorge's versatility. He won games for Cal as a scorer (vs. UCLA), as a distributor (vs. Oregon St.) and as a defender (vs. everyone).
The choice of Williams as player of the year was also unanimous, an easy decision after he authored perhaps the most efficient offensive seasons in Pac-10 history. In a different year Klay Thompson's growth into a more complete player at both ends of the floor might have earned him the title, but Williams wasn't going to be denied.
Isaiah Thomas played so brilliantly in certain games that I wondered halfway through the season if he might end up as player of the year. Ultimately a few weaker performances during Washington's iffy stretch run cost him, but he was still the best point guard in a weak year for distributors out west.
Nikola Vucevic, however, held off a number of deserving post players, but his importance to an incredibly thin USC team cannot be understated. It's hard to believe, but Vucevic played 2nd highest percentage of available minutes of any Pac-10 player despite playing a role very prone to foul trouble. Oh and by the way, he also averaged a double double.
Also receiving consideration: Josh Smith (UCLA), Jared Cunningham (Oregon St.)
Now here's where things get a little dicier. Jeremy Green, Harper Kamp and Matthew Bryan-Amaning were unanimous picks, but I think I could have been talked out of each player on this team. I was very tempted to pick Allen Crabbe over Jeremy Green - In conference play Crabbe averages a similar number of points per game despite taking fewer shots, plus Crabbe has a better assist, turnover and defensive rebounding rate. But ultimately I decided that Green's performance as the obvious go-to-guy and only true threat on a struggling Stanford team raised the level of difficulty enough to justify the pick. Plus I didn't want to go too homer-crazy. Flag away, Cal fans!
Picking the forwards was a challenge, and we all ended up stretching the boundaries of the team by putting three true post players on the second team. And I also think you could make a compelling argument for DeAngelo Casto, Josh Smith, Reeves Nelson and Alex Stephenson, all of whom probably had better years than Jeremy Green. It was a great year for Pac-10 big men, but there’s only so much room.
Avi was incredulous when I suggested that perhaps Josh Smith was a second teamer, rightly pointing out that nobody that plays just over 20 minutes a game can earn a spot. I’ll admit at wondering what UCLA might have achieved if they could have kept Smith on the floor more, because he was usually the best player on the court when he entered games. His offensive rebounding was an absolute game-changer, and when he got the ball anywhere near the block it was over. But his inability to avoid foul trouble, lack of college level conditioning or Ben Howland’s refusal to play him more (I’m not sure which) cost him. If he doesn’t go pro, look out next year.
Ultimately it’s the ability to score that set the three post players we picked apart from the rest. Bryan-Amaning may have unfairly benefitted from receiving the ball in perfect position to score time and time again from Isaiah Thomas, but he still had to convert the basket and he was a monster on the glass at both ends. Catron transformed himself into a versatile low-post scorer and led Oregon to perhaps the most surprisingly successful season in the Pac-10 this year. And Harper Kamp displayed the most savvy arsenal of moves to compensate for his comparatively less impressive athleticism while spear-heading Cal’s suddenly lethal Pac-10 offense.
Point guard: Malcolm Lee (UCLA)
Guard: Jorge Gutierrez (California)
Guard/forward: Venoy Overton (Washington)
Forward: Marcus Simmons, Defensive Player of the Year (USC)
Forward/center: DeAngelo Casto (Washington St.)
Also receiving consideration: Nikola Vucevic (USC) , Jared Cunningham (Oregon St.)
Marcus Simmons was a unanimous selection as the defensive player of the year, a just reward for a player tasked with shutting down the opponent’s best player each night, from point guards to small forwards. For a USC team starved of offensive production it speaks volumes that Simmons gets so much playing time despite a very limited offensive game. He’s as close as the conference gets to a shut down defender.
DeAngelo Casto was the other unanimous pick, not a surprise for WSU’s roving menace in the paint. Casto has had a variety of highlight reel blocks against the Bears over the past two years, so I’d expect Cal fans to rate his defense quite highly.
But when it comes to the guards it was a bit more controversial – Lee, Overton, Gutierrez and Jared Cunningham all received an equal number of votes, and there are good arguments for and against all four. Ultimately, the tie-breaker went against Cunningham, the Pac-10’s leader in steals. However, it’s pretty much a given that whichever player running the top of Oregon St.’s 1-3-1 zone will rack up tons of steals – it’s what the defense is designed to do. So do we credit that player for successfully running the system? Perhaps, but it should also be noted that Oregon St.’s defense was pretty awful this year, allowing the highest shooting percentage in the conference. If Cunningham is getting credit for benefiting statistically from a system, then he should also be evaluated on that system’s failure to produce.
However, the same could be said for Jorge, who played his usual excellent defense on a Cal defense that was rather porous for most of the season. However, I think Jorge gets the pick in part because he already proved his abilities last year, and because on the rare occasions that Cal got to play man-to-man he demonstrated that he’s still a defensive terror.
Lee gets lots of credit from Cal fans for shutting down Allen Crabbe down in Westwood, though he didn’t have much success when he was switched over to try to shut down a red-hot Jorge Gutierrez. Nevertheless, Lee has clearly embraced Ben Howland’s signature tough man-to-man style and is a deserving selection.
Venoy Overton still plays excellent perimeter defense and still fouls way too much, but at this point you just have to shrug and realize that, for better or for worse, that’s the system that Washington runs, and they are willing to trade bad shots and steals for a few free throws.
Point guard: Maurice Jones (USC)
Guard: Terrance Ross (Washington)
Guard/forward: Allen Crabbe, Freshman of the Year (California)
Forward: Dwight Powell (Stanford)
Forward/center: Joshua Smith (UCLA)
Also receiving consideration: Anthony Brown (Stanford)
Beyond Allen Crabbe and Josh Smith it wasn’t a stellar year for Pac-10 freshmen, but there are a number of players who look to be long term presences in the league. Ultimately Stanford’s Dwight Powell edged out his teammate Anthony Brown for the final spot. You could make a solid argument for both, as they had similar levels of production from different spots on the floor. I briefly considered adding Richard Solomon, who arguably was playing at a higher level at the end of the season, but he ultimately didn’t play enough minutes to earn a spot.
Terrance Ross would have been a shoo-in pick and perhaps freshman of the year if he played on a team that could have given him starter minutes. But he still acquitted himself well at Washington and will likely be a dangerous offensive player next year after the graduation of Venoy Overton. And if all freshman team was awarded based on one performance C.J. Wilcox might have grabbed a spot for his absurd 24 point explosion against UCLA.
Crabbe, Smith, and Maurice Jones were unanimous picks, and I’d bet you can all guess who won Freshman of the Year. Jones was the only freshman point guard getting meaningful playing time, but he did an impressive job running the show at USC and did much more than earning his spot by default. Crabbe and Smith played well enough to earn consideration for second team all Pac-10 honors.