We are now halfway through the conference season which means it’s time for my midseason awards ballot. I’ll list my picks for 1st through 3rd conference teams*, all-freshman team, most improved player, defensive player of the year, and player of the year.
*The reason for the asterisk is that the Pac-12 puts out a 10-person 1st team and a 5-person 2nd team. This is pure stupidity and I refuse to recognize it. Let’s start with the conference teams in reverse order.
Honorable Mentions: Kylor Kelley- Oregon State, Tyler Bey- Colorado, Noah Dickerson- Washington- Justice Sueing- California
My goal with the all-conference teams was to try to make lineups that could theoretically play together and not be a complete mess. That meant limiting the number of big men who don’t shoot on the team. Point guard is much weaker than center in the conference right now so Kelley, Bey, and Dickerson get squeezed out. Justice Sueing misses mainly because I can’t in good conscience put a Cal player on any of the teams until they win a conference game.
G- Remy Martin Arizona State, G- Ethan Thompson Oregon State, F- Donnie Tillman Utah, F- KZ Okpala Stanford, C- Chase Jeter Arizona
This is almost entirely the sophomore team. Everyone except Jeter showed talent in their freshman seasons but all of them have made a major leap in year 2. Okpala looks like the only poised to make a leap to the NBA so the future is bright for the other 3 programs as their players should all be preseason favorites to make 1st or 2nd team next year. Arizona fell apart with Chase Jeter out of the lineup which shows his value but I’m docking him a little for having missed almost 25% of the conference schedule so far.
G- Stephen Thompson Jr Oregon State, G- Matisse Thybulle Washington, F- Kris Wilkes UCLA, F- Robert Franks Washington State, C- Zylan Cheatham Arizona State
My guess is that Thybulle will ultimately be snubbed since he didn’t make it last year and his offensive numbers are down but he’s averaging a combined 5.3 blocks and steals per game which is nearly unheard of for anyone and especially for a 6’5 wing. Kris Wilkes and Robert Franks are both putting up huge numbers on obscene usage rates (1st and 5th highest in conference play) but have managed to keep their efficiency at a passable level. Cheatham is the only player in the conference currently averaging a double double with 11.8 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. And Stephen Thompson Jr. would be 1st team if he only ever played Washington.
G- Sedrick Barefield Utah, G- Jaylen Nowell Washington, F- Tres Tinkle Oregon State, F- Bennie Boatwright USC, C- Nick Rakocevic USC
Barefield and Nowell are both leading their respective teams in scoring and assists so while neither is a true point guard they’re definitely both lead guards. The big man duo of Bennie Boatwright and Nick Rakocevic have carried the Trojans to a surprising start in Pac-12 play and are 2 of just 5 players in the conference to average at least 15 points and 6 rebounds per game. And one of the others is Tres Tinkle who is putting up eye-popping numbers yet again.
G- Brandon Williams Arizona, G- Luguentz Dort Arizona State, F- Timmy Allen Utah, F- CJ Elleby Washington State, C- Moses Brown UCLA
If you want to understand why the Pac-12 as a whole is struggling you should look at the list above. There just isn’t the kind of star power that you normally find on this team. Bol Bol would be a clear favorite for not only making this team but also for Pac-12 player of the year if he hadn’t gotten hurt. Kevin Porter Jr. has missed the majority of the season due to a combination of injury and suspension.
Dort is averaging 16 points per game still but is shooting under 20% from 3-pt range in conference play on more than 5 attempts per game. Moses Brown and Brandon Williams were the other highest rated recruits in the conference and while both have been above average I wouldn’t say that either has been sensational. C.J Elleby has probably been the best overall freshman despite coming in as a low 3-star recruit but his team is obviously 11th in the conference which makes it feel as if some of his numbers are empty stats. Timmy Allen made the cut for the last spot over Oregon’s Louis King (too few games played), Cal’s Matt Bradley (bad team), and his teammate Both Gach (slightly worse numbers than Allen).
Most Improved Player of the Year
KZ Okpala, Stanford
Okpala has seen his minutes increase by 14% this year but has almost doubled his scoring and rebounding from 10/3.7 to 18.1/6.1. He’s managed this by increasing his efficiency everywhere on the court while also taking more shots, a combination that rarely happens. Last year Okpala only took about one 3-pointer per game and only made 22% of them. So far this season he is shooting about 3x as many and making 41% of long range attempts. The results in the win column haven’t been what Stanford has wanted but Okpala has more than lived up to his potential.
Defensive Player of the Year
Matisse Thybulle, Washington
This is a 2-man race between Matisse and Oregon State’s Kylor Kelley. The OSU big man leads the country in blocks and that’s normally the biggest determinant in a DPOY race. But Thybulle has the longer track record as last year’s winner and has gotten even better at blocking shots (2nd in the Pac-12 behind Kelley) which should allow him to easily repeat. The only Oregon State game I’ve watched start to finish was the one against UW and Kelley finished with 0 blocks while Thybulle had 5 steals. If you thought they were remotely close to tied then there’s your tiebreaker. Matisse is one of just two players in the country averaging 2+ blocks and steals per game and the other is presumptive #1 NBA Draft pick Zion Williamson who is barely at 2.0 in both. Thybulle’s prowess at getting both steals and blocks is literally unprecedented in the last decade.
Pac-12 Player of the Year
Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
Tinkle is currently the only player in the country averaging 20+ points, 8+ rebounds, and 4+ assists per game and there are only 19 players in the country to average any two of those let alone all three. In order for Tinkle to hold on to this award at the end of the year however the Beavers are going to need to be a top-4 finisher in the conference. So far so good as OSU is in a 3-way tie for 2nd place at 6-3. But if the Beavers fade out of contention then Jaylen Nowell becomes the front runner. Nowell is averaging fewer points, rebounds, and assists but he’s been the best player for the team that is currently running away with the conference and if voters go with that criteria then he’ll win the award.
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