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Cal Basketball Monday Thoughts: All Pac-12 Conference Picks!

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The media and coaches will be making their end-of-season award picks, but those guys don't know the first thing about basketball! When you need to accurately break down the best players and coaches in the Conference of Champions, you go to unpaid bloggers for your picks!

Lots of talent in this picture
Lots of talent in this picture
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, CGB! With the regular season now complete, today is the perfect opportunity to look back on another thrilling season of Pac-12 basketball. I expect that some time today, the Pac-12 will announce all-conference awards and honors. They'll probably be pretty good, for the most part! But we all know that my authoritative selections will be better.

How did I make these picks? Here are a couple of factors that influenced my thinking:

1. Importance to his team: More minutes and higher usage mean something. Obviously, getting a ton of minutes and shots without doing anything useful is a hindrance, but when comparing players with similar efficiency rates, usage and court time matter.

2. Defense: Very hard to rate individually, but playing lots of minutes on a team that consistently plays high level defense is a bonus. If you're a lynch-pin for what that team does on defense, all the better. I'll fully admit that I didn't see enough of each team (Thanks, new programming decisions on the Pac-12 network!) to fully scout defense, so my best sense might be off. But I don't want to ignore one side of the ball either.

3. Range of impact: Being a good shooter is great. Being a good rebounder is great. Drawing fouls than you commit is great. Having a high assist rate or a low turnover rate is great. If you can do more than one of those things, even better!

4. A focus on conference games: Non-conference performance matters, but conference performance trumps all.

Having said all that, this is all open for debate, and I think there are a ton of reasonable arguments for and against moving guys around from tier to tier. Tell me all about it in the comments!

First team All Pac-12

PG Gary Payton, Oregon State
G Dillon Brooks, Oregon
G Jaylen Brown, Cal
F Ryan Anderson, Arizona
C Jakob Poeltl, Utah

For once, I understand why the media and coaches have 10 player 1st teams. This year it's really hard to distinguish between say, the 4th best player in the conference and the 9th best player. That's in large part because there were very few players who dominated the ball on their teams. Only three players in the conference ended the season classified as 'go-to' players in Kenpom's usage rating system. One of those players missed five games in the middle of the conference season (Tyrone Wallace). The other two were Jaylen Brown and Andrew Andrews.

Poeltl (more on him later) and Brooks were easy picks for the first team - go-to offensive leaders for the teams that finished 1st and 2nd in the standings. Gary Payton was a relatively easy pick as probably the most impactful, influential two-way player in the entire conference. I gave Jaylen Brown and Ryan Anderson the nod for being the best, most important players on the other two major contenders for the conference title, although both players have enough flaws (efficiency and defense, respectively) that I'd listen to arguments for other players I've put on the 2nd team. Putting Jaylen in the 1st team might be my most homeriffic pick, but I won't apologize.

Second Team All Pac-12

PG Andrew Andrews, Washington
G Jordan McLaughlin, USC
F Ivan Rabb, California
F Chris Boucher, Oregon
C Josh Scott, Colorado

Here you've got the best players on the teams in the 2nd tier of Pac-12 teams with Andrews, McLaughlin, and Scott, along with the 2nd best players from Utah and Oregon.

Andrews has an argument as the 2nd best offensive player in the conference behind Poeltl, but I have a hard time squaring his high degree of responsibility with Washington's relative mediocrity as a team on both ends of the court.

Scott is probably my biggest snub from 1st team status, and in the argument for the most indispensable player on his team. If Colorado doesn't have him, they probably aren't that much different from ASU, right?

McLaughlin was the driving force for USC's offense, a combo-guard and shooter who created for himself and for teammates.

Boucher was the single most efficient scorer in the conference and a critical defender asked to frequently guard bigger players on an almost nightly basis. His ability to do so was a critical factor in Oregon's championship season.

Ivan Rabb doesn't pile up a ton of counting stats and was relatively low usage, and for that reason will likely not get a ton of all-conference attention. But he does everything well. He's probably the biggest reason Cal transformed from mediocre to excellent on the defensive end, and was the driving force that made Cal an excellent rebounding team. That he also provided strong offense only adds to his case.

Third Team All Pac-12

PG Bryce Alford, UCLA
G Gabe York, Arizona
G Jordan Mathews
Josh Hawkinson, Washington State
C Kaleb Tarczweski, Arizona

Bryce Alford is going to be a controversial choice. On one hand, he's obviously a poor defender and he's overused in an offense that has other good options. On the other hand, it's not his fault that his coach demands so much from him. He's an excellent passer and a strong shooter, and ultimately the driving force of a solid offense undone by a wretched defense. I'm not blaming him for Steve Alford's weaknesses.

York was mis-cast as a ball-dominant guard but was still a critical scorer for Arizona, and his shooting was the driving force in more than a few Arizona wins (sob).

Hawkinson was literally the only positive for Washington State, but the fact that he was able to score so efficiently considering the talent around him (to say nothing of his rebounding) says volumes about his individual ability. Take him away and the Cougars would be in the argument for worst team in conference history.

Tarczewski is the best all-around rebounder in the conference, a strong post defender, and a high efficiency scorer. If he got more shots and more minutes he'd probably be first team.

Jordan Mathews is the single best shooter in the conference, and was on the court 73% of the time for the conference's best defense. That's good enough for 3rd team in my book.

With apologies to: Allonzo Trier, Nikola Jovanovic, George King, Jordan Loveridge, Elgin Cook, Tyler Dorsey, and Tres Tinkle. No apologies to Rosco Allen.

All Freshman Team

G Tyler Dorsey
G Jaylen Brown
F Marquese Chriss
F Tres Tinkle
F Ivan Rabb

Really pretty easy picks here - the only decision you have to make is what to do with Allonzo Trier. Arizona's best freshman missed 7 conference games, and for that reason he's off my list. If he had played enough he'd probably displace Marquese Chriss. The only other freshman that might have a shot is Dejounte Murray and maaaaybe Bennie Boatwright. Murray racked up huge counting stats for Washington, but was wildly inefficient, and didn't play much defense.

All Defense

PG Gary Payton, Oregon State
G Brandon Taylor, Utah
G Kadeem Allen, Arizona
F Chris Boucher, Oregon
F/C Kameron Rooks, California

Payton and Boucher were easy picks - one is the best perimeter defender, the other a critical interior defender and shot blocker. Allen gets the nod for being widely acknowledged as Arizona's best perimeter defender.

Taylor is perhaps a bit more controversial, but he grabs plenty of steals with a minuscule foul rate and heavy minutes for a top tier conference defense.

Rooks is also a bit controversial because he doesn't play a ton of minutes and fouls too often, but he was absolutely critical to Cal's defensive transformation, and somebody has to be on the all-defense team from the conference's best defense. I had to choose between Kam and Ivan, and I gave the nod to Kam because Ivan gets plenty of pub.

Player of the Year: Jakob Poeltl

The single easiest pick on the entire ballot. Poeltl is the 2nd most efficient player in the conference regardless of usage and team responsibility. When you consider that he happens to be 6th in the conference in usage rate, you see a player who is clearly the most valuable player in the Pac-12, and potentially a first team All-American nationally.

Poeltl does everything well, and some things really, really well. He rebounds well on both sides of the ball, and draws a ton of fouls without committing many on the other end. Most of all, he's a great, great finisher, with the best true shooting percentage among major conference players.

He's gonna go pro, thank God.

Defensive Player of the Year: Gary Payton

Ah, the year-in, year-out challenge of teasing out team defense and individual defense. Oregon State is middle of the pack defensively. This is odd, because last year OSU had one of the best team defenses, with most of the team back. But they've added five freshmen who all play major minutes, and the addition of those inexperienced players has seemingly had a negative impact on OSU's defense (though I don't at all blame Tinkle for focusing on the offense after last year's ugliness).

That doesn't change the fact that Payton is still awesome. He's still the best ball thief in the conference, if not the nation. My eye test says that he's not giving back value with risky steal attempts. He doesn't foul much considering his defensive impact, and he rebounds well for his size and position.

Freshman of the Year: Jaylen Brown

Another easy pick. Brown is 5th in the conference in scoring behind a bunch of non-freshman, and he's also a solid rebounder and defender for his position. He's the best freshman in this conference and will win the award easily. The tougher question - where does he stack up against every player, not just freshmen?

This is a chance to talk about Jaylen Brown, guy who racks up counting stats, and Jaylen Brown, relatively inefficient scorer. Because he's not a great shooter (either on jumpers or from the line) and is not a truly elite finisher (or, at least, he wasn't earlier in the year), Brown's offensive efficiency lags behind other players. Throw in a few too many turnovers without corresponding assists, and you have a player with a merely average level of offensive efficiency.

Coach of the Year: Andy Enfield

I wanted to construct this segment as a gigantic argument for Cuonzo Martin as coach of the year, but ultimately couldn't quite pull the trigger. But here's the basic argument:

There seem to be 3 schools of thought regarding coaching awards. Option 1: Which coach most exceeded media expectations? This method is only good if you think the media is good at setting expectations. Based on this criteria, it would be either Enfield or Dana Altman. Option 2: Which coach had the most team success, i.e., give it to the coach who won the title. This is a valid, but boring approach. Obviously, it goes to Altman by this method.

The 3rd option? Which coach improved his team most year-over-year. Here are a couple of measures:

Biggest improvement in Pac-12 finish: Cal (8/9/10th place to 3rd/4th place) & USC (12th to 6/7/8th)
Improvement in Pac-12 win total: USC (3 to 9, +6) & Cal (7 to 12, +5)
Improvement in Kenpom rating: Cal (+91 spots in national rankings) & USC (+99 spots)

Cuonzo Martin deserves all kinds of credit from turning Cal into a 2015 also ran into a 2016 contender. Yes, recruiting the talent needed is a part of that, and blaming him for any perceived failure to maximize that talent is missing the fact that the talent likely wouldn't be in Berkeley if he weren't in charge.

But Enfield engineered a turnover at USC that is slightly more impressive that Cuonzo's turnaround, thanks to his own recruiting, talent development, and in-season coaching. But Cuonzo should be considered, even if he will likely not get a serious look from the media.

Later this week

Thoughts on a heartbreaking but hopeful end to a trying season of women's basketball. Also, I didn't watch enough WBB this year to give out any awards, but if I did I'd just give them all to Kristine Anigwe anyway.