While the No. 3 Arizona Wildcats clinched the Pac-12 race by beating Stanford, guard Nick Johnson may have done the same with the conference player-of-the-year award.
At least if you subscribe to the best-player-on-the-best team theory, and consider his all-around contributions that don’t always show in the box score.
“I would think Nick Johnson would be the leading candidate, and there’s two reasons,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “Number one, we were the No. 1 team. I think that’s always taken into great account by the coaches who vote but also, just being very realistic, he has had a phenomenal season.
“What he does on defense, that alone he’s an all-defense (Pac-12) guy, one of the best defensive guards probably who plays college basketball. And from offensive perspective, he’s our leading scorer.”
In conference games, Johnson is 10th in scoring (16.0), sixth in assist-turnover ratio (1.78) and eighth in steals (1.4).
Around the league, there are several players with eye-opening stats, such as leading scorer Roberto Nelson of Oregon State (20.1 points per game), triple-double threat Kyle Anderson of UCLA (15.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.9 assists) and all-around box-score filler Delon Wright of Utah (17.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.6 steals, 1.6 blocks).
But Oregon State has performed below expectations, Anderson was suspended for the Bruins’ loss to Oregon last week and Wright has averaged 39 minutes a game while tallying up all his numbers.
Meanwhile, Miller said, Johnson has also proven valuable by playing three different positions: shooting guard, point guard and, now that UA has turned to a smaller lineup, small forward.
“You talk about differences between before Brandon (Ashley) and after — Nick barely played any small forward before Brandon got hurt,” Miller said. “He’s the guy who shifted over, so he actually plays three different positions in every game. He’s really had an outstanding year and very deserved in my mind to be the Pac-12 player of the year.”
One more year?
Whatever happens, Johnson may not return for an encore next season. Draft Express has the combo guard projected to go in the middle of the second round of the June NBA draft, though Miller indicated he’d like to see all non-seniors stay if they don’t land higher than that.
“What I hope is that anybody who would leave early would never be a second-round pick,” Miller said. “That’s a devastating blow to the next 50 years of their life. If they leave I think it should be for an opportunity to be protected, to be invested in where their future is well spoken for.”
You can “come back to have a chance to get better and improve like Solomon Hill did. If Solomon had left after his junior year, who knows where he would be? But right now the Indiana Pacers are so invested in him — he’s a first-round pick — that he’s set for the next decade of his life. That’s what we hope happens.
“Will it always happen like that? No. But to this point we’ve been a group of players and coaches and a team that’s been focused on what we can control and that is our journey as a team right now. All that other stuff will work itself out.”
UA No. 1 in RPI
The Wildcats have put themselves in position to earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament if they keep winning.
Arizona stayed No. 3 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll Monday but moved to No. 1 in the NCAA’s official RPI as well as three major college basketball metrics: The Sagarin ratings, ESPN’s BPI and Kenpom.com.
Meanwhile, ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi has Arizona No. 1 on his “S-Curve” (the top overall seed in the tournament) while also putting seven Pac-12 teams into his projected bracket: Arizona received a No. 1 seed, UCLA a 5, ASU an 8, while three teams — Cal, Stanford and Colorado — were assigned No. 10s and Oregon was given a 12.
- Three weeks removed from surgery to repair a ligament on his injured foot, Ashley may make the Wildcats’ trip to Oregon this week. “A lot has to do with his classwork, what he’s missing, but if he can come I think he would like to,” Miller said. “He’s halfway through six weeks (of crutches). Traveling makes that time go easier.”
- Miller said he would likely return
- Gabe York
- to the starting lineup on Wednesday at Oregon State. The coach started senior
- Jordin Mayes
- during his final home game on Sunday.
- Mike Moser
- was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 16.0 points and 16.0 rebounds in the Ducks’ wins at UCLA and USC over the weekend. UA had nominated forward
- Aaron Gordon