Throughout Pac-12 play, the Star’s Jon Gold will check in with other beat reporters to break down the best, worst and most
surprising things in the conference. This week, he interviews with Percy Allen of the Seattle Times, Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic, David Woods of BruinReportOnline.com and Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com. Here’s what they said:
Who’s the best team through one week of conference play and why?
Allen: “It may have taken Arizona longer than most people expected to put away Washington, but the top-ranked Wildcats are still the class of the Pac-12. Still, coach Sean Miller has to be concerned about Arizona’s ability to make perimeter shots to spread the floor and create room inside for its big, talented frontline.”
Woods: “Until someone beats them, you have to say that the Wildcats are the class of the conference. First, Arizona beat Washington State in really impressive fashion. Holding any team to 25 points in a game is astounding, no matter how bad that team is. Then, in the second game of the weekend against Washington, the Wildcats showed the fortitude to make a comeback and pull ahead late thanks to the spectacular play of freshman Aaron Gordon.”
Haller: “Colorado had the best win. Utah may have had the best effort. But the best team, until someone proves otherwise, is Arizona. The Wildcats lead the conference in intensity.”
Moseley: “Is this a trick question to a newbie on the conference men’s basketball beat? I’m going with Arizona. Winning all your games is better than winning most of them. Or, in WSU’s case, half of them.”
Who’s the best player through one week of conference play and why?
Haller: “I think Arizona State’s Jahii Carson is the Pac-12’s best player, but to this point UA’s Nick Johnson is the most valuable. With all the pieces Sean Miller has, he needed someone to bring it all together, and so far Johnson has excelled in that role. He’s more than just the Wildcats’ leading scorer, more than just their best perimeter defender, he’s a steady presence. Without him, it wouldn’t work. Plus, he has the guts to try a 360-dunk in the first half of a tight conference game. That’s confidence.”
Allen: “At the moment it’s hard to pick anyone other than Colorado’s Askia Booker, who won the Pac-12 Player of the Week award Monday. That was a big-time performance in a big game, in which he scored a career-high 27 points.”
Woods: “Jahii Carson. Carson is one of the few reasons why that Arizona State team has even a hope of competing in the Pac-12. He’s improved in virtually all facets of his game from a year ago, perhaps most noticeably in his three-point shooting. Despite averaging four fewer minutes per game, his scoring average is up.”
Moseley: “I’m gonna go with (UCLA’s) Kyle Anderson. To be 14th in scoring, fourth in rebounding and first in assists seems good.”
What has been the biggest conference surprise?
Haller: “Anyone watch Washington during the nonconference season? The Huskies lost by 14 to UC-Irvine in Seattle. They lost by 11 to Boston College in New York. Even when they won, they didn’t look great, needing two overtimes to beat struggling Long Beach State. Naturally, in the first week of the Pac-12 season, Washington defeats ASU in Tempe and takes Arizona to the wire in Tucson. Bravo, Lorenzo Romar.”
Allen: “Utah nearly knocked off Oregon, and Mike Montgomery led injury-depleted California to a win at Stanford, but Washington’s upset at Arizona State came out of left field. After several lackluster nonconference performances, the Huskies were left for dead. Now some UW fans can envision a finish in the top half of the Pac-12.”
Woods: “Probably USC. I was expecting the Trojans to be horrible, and they’ve really only been below-average. It’s going to be interesting to see how Andy Enfield gets the team to respond after the 34-point thrashing at the hands of UCLA on Sunday.”
Moseley: “Gonna go with Utah. Not that their being 12-2 is a total shock, but they’re one possession away from having knocked off Oregon to make a serious statement to the league.”
Who will finally beat the Wildcats?
Haller: “I don’t think it will be UCLA. The Bruins are gifted offensively, but lack toughness on defense. Colorado is dangerous, but the Wildcats should survive at McKale on Jan. 23. I’m not sure which team it will be — Stanford or Cal — but I think it will happen during Arizona’s trip to the Bay Area at the end of this month. That No. 1 bull’s-eye can be stressful, and history says it will catch up to the Wildcats at some point. My gut says Stanford, so I will go with Cal.”
Allen: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wildcats suffer their first lost Thursday at UCLA. The Bruins are expecting a Pauley Pavilion sellout, and it’s going to be an old-fashioned test of wills. UCLA is one of the highest-scoring teams in the nation, while Arizona ranks 10th in the country in scoring defense, allowing opponents 54.9 points per game.”
Woods: “If UCLA doesn’t take care of it this Thursday, we could be in for several weeks of this question. I don’t see the Bruins beating Arizona, though, since the Wildcats probably are one of the best defensive teams the Bruins will face this year, and UCLA’s had difficulties when teams have stepped up defensive pressure. I think I’ll go with Colorado on Jan. 23rd in Tucson. The Buffs have the talent to hang with the Wildcats and one of the best coaches in the conference in Tad Boyle.”
Moseley: “Heck, I’d give UCLA a reasonable shot this week.”