Pac-10 Midway Report: Derrick Williams top playerby Javier Morales on Jan. 31, 2011, under Sports
One person’s opinion about Pac-10 players and coaches at the midway point of the season …
Player of the Year: Derrick Williams, Arizona. Williams proved against USC’s talented frontcourt Saturday that he’s better with one healthy hand than others are with two. Nationally, the talk about the best player includes BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and UConn’s Kemba Walker. Williams is as valuable to Arizona as those guys are to their teams. Williams won’t get the nod for national player of the year but he deserves to be in the discussion.
Coach of the Year: Sean Miller, Arizona. Cal’s Mike Montgomery is in the discussion, having California in the upper division of the Pac-10 (fourth with a 5-4 record) despite losing four senior starters from last season. Miller’s work overall is award-worthy because he has restored the Wildcats to their competitive ways in only his second year in Tucson. The Wildcats also have two more wins overall than all of last year with two wins against Top 50 teams (Washington State and USC), according to KenPom.com.
Freshman of the Year: Allen Crabbe, Cal. He is instrumental in the Golden Bears being where they are today despite the overhaul of talent and the sudden departure of fellow freshman Gary Franklin to Baylor. The freshman forward is among the conference’s leaders in scoring (11.5 a game), rebounds (5.4), free-throw percentage (82.4), three-pointers made (1.8 a game), and minutes played (32.2 a game).
Newcomer of the Year: Lazeric Jones, UCLA. The junior-college transfer from Logan (Ill.) played his basketball during the Bruins’ recent season-turning four-game winning streak, which shows how valuable he is to Ben Howland‘s team. Jones has helped rectify UCLA’s suspect point-guard play after a void left by Darren Collison‘s departure after the 2008-09 season.
Starting Five: If fielding a Pac-10 All-Star team, the starting five would look this way — Williams and Nikola Vucevic of USC at the forward spots, Reeves Nelson of UCLA at the post and Isaiah Thomas of Washington and Klay Thompson of Washington State at the guard positions. All will be earning an NBA paycheck within a year or two.
Top Five Subs: Picking the bench with this hypothetical All-Star team is very difficult, but this is my best shot: Matthew Bryan-Amaning of Washington and Alex Stepheson with Southern Cal at the post and power forward spots, respectively; Tyler Honeycutt of UCLA on the wing; and Washington’s Justin Holiday and Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham at the guard spots.
Best Five Freshmen: Crabbe and Dwight Powell of Stanford at the forward spots with UCLA’s Joshua Smith at center. Maurice Jones of USC is the top freshman point guard in the league, sixth in the league in assists (3.7 a game) and second in steals (2.2). The other guard spot? It could have been USC’s Bryce Jones had he stuck around, but the nod goes to Arizona’s Jordin Mayes, who plays beyond his years and has a smooth release from the perimeter.
Top Five Second Half Games: These will be the most anticipated games in the “back nine” of the Pac-10 season — Arizona at Cal, Feb. 5; Washington at Arizona, Feb. 19; UCLA at Cal, Feb. 20; Arizona at UCLA, Feb. 26.; UCLA at Washington, March 3.
Biggest surprise: Cal’s upper-division showing with a 5-4 record, 12-9 overall, after losing the top four scorers and everybody who started more than 13 games last year. The Golden Bears were the No. 7 pick in the preseason Pac-10 poll determined by the region’s media. Second choice: Oregon similarly lost most of its players and it also lost its coach (Ernie Kent) but new coach Dana Altman is doing a reputable job with the Ducks still vying for postseason play with a 10-11 record.
Biggest disappointment: Hard to pick from Stanford, Oregon State or ASU — all have their flaws. The Cardinal lost four straight and couldn’t score more than 60 points in that stretch after starting 3-1 in the league. Stanford is now 4-5. Oregon State’s Craig Robinson pleads for the Beaver fans to give him some time to return the program back to its glory days under Ralph Miller. How much time? Miller has not been around for a quarter century. And finally, the Sun Devils were the preseason No. 4 pick but injuries and lackluster play (particularly on the boards) have made their season miserable. How long will Robinson and Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins last if they go though the same problems a year from now? Sendek, mired in last place, is on solid ground because of his experience and let’s face it — is college hoops a hot topic in the Phoenix-area?