Pac-12 Basketball Talk: Our All-Conference Team, Top Coach, Etc. – Sports Illustrated

With the regular season complete and the Pac-12 tournament set to begin Wednesday, it’s time to present our awards to the conference’s top players and coaches as well as other honors for the 2021-22 season.

The Pac-12 will announce the official awards in the coming days, but this is how we see things.

We start with the Pac-12 all-conference team.

For the past 13 years, the Pac-12 has named 10 players to its first-team all-conference squads, which is a copout. We take the more difficult path by naming a five-man all-Pac-12 first team.

The first three choices were easy; the last two were not.

All-Pac-12 first team

—Bennedict Mathirin, Arizona (17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds) – The best all-around player on the best all-around team. 

—Terrell Brown Jr., Washington (21.7 points, 4.2 assists, 2.13 steals) – He’s eighth in the nation in scoring and leads the conference in steals for a team that exceeded expectations, finishing tied for fifth. He put an exclamation point on his regular season with a 12-for-14, 24-point game against Oregon State on Saturday.

—Jabari Walker, Colorado (14.7 points, 9.4 rebounds) – His numbers in Pac-12 games – 15.7 points, 10.4 rebounds – put him on the first team. The Buffaloes’ fourth-place finish helped too.

—Drew Peterson, USC (12.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists) – Few will agree with this selection, but we need a floor leader on the first-team squad, and the 6-foot-9 Peterson filled that role in the second half of the season. He was the player that made the right plays when the game was on the line, and he was the Trojans’ go-to player over the final eight games, when he averaged 17.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.25 blocks

—Johnny Juzang, UCLA (16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds) – Juzang made our first team by the skin of his teeth, and we’re still not sure he should be here. If Will Richardson had done anything in his final two games, Juzang would have been relegated to the second team. Yes, we know Juzang is a finalist for national player of the year, but Juzang missed five conference games, which is a quarter of the Pac-12 schedule, and he averaged just 11.75 points on 32.3% shooting in the four games against the two other elite Pac-12 teams, Arizona and USC. He was a non-factor in Saturday’s win over USC.

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Second team

—Will Richardson, Oregon (14.1 points, 3.6 assists) – We were set to put him on the first team until he was a non-factor in the final two games he played, recording more turnovers (4) than points (2) and going 0-for-11 from the floor in the losses to Washington and USC combined.

—Jaime Jaquez, UCLA (13.3 points, 5.5 rebounds) – Perhaps the best low-post player in the conference, Jaquez moved up in our estimation with his magnificent performances this week, scoring 30 against Washington and 27 against USC. If we were playing a game tomorrow, we would take Jaquez over Juzang.

—Christian Koloko, Arizona (11.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.8 blocks) – Koloko’s remarkable improvement from last season is one reason for Arizona’s success. He’ll likely be the conference defensive player of the year.

—Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona (14.7 points, 6.3 rebounds) – In crunch time, Arizona goes to Tubelis as often as it goes to Mathurin. He does not have Mathurin’s flash, but he is steady.

—Isaiah Mobley, USC (14.6 points, 8.5 rebounds) – Another player who received first-team consideration, and if he had maintained the high three-point shooting percentage he had over the first half of the season, he would have been on the first team.

Just missed: Tyger Campbell, UCLA, Michael Flowers, Washington State.

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Player of the Year

—Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona – A likely lottery pick in the NBA draft

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Freshman of the year

—Harrison Ingram, Stanford (10.5 points, 6.6 points) – The conference lacked its usual allotment of elite freshmen, but Ingram was the best despite failing to score in double figures in any of his last five games.

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Coach of the Year

Tommy Lloyd, Arizona – We thought seriously about giving this honor to Washington State’s Kyle Smith, for his ability to build something out of nothing in his three seasons. We hate giving this award to someone based on a single season, but Lloyd’s one season was just too good to ignore, especially since the Wildcats were picked to finish tied for fourth (with Oregon State) and went 11-9 in the conference a year ago.

Lloyd’s first season ranks among the best seasons in history for a person in his first season as a college head coach. Let’s take a look at some other stellar seasons by men in their first season as a college head coach:

28-3 — Tommy Lloyd, Arizona, 2021-20 (No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament expected)

25-3 — Gary Cunningham, UCLA, 1977-78 (Cunningham was replaced after his second season, when he went 25-5)

34-4 – Bill Guthridge, North Carolina, 1997-98 (He lasted just three seasons as the Tar Heels head man)

26-4 – Jim Boeheim, 1976-77 (45 years later he is still at the place where he started)

32-3 – Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin (Underwood is head coach at Illinois, which is tied for first in the Big Ten)

24-2 – Lute Olson, Long Beach State, 1973-74 (Things worked out OK for Lute at Iowa and Arizona)

22-5 – Terry Holland, Davidson, 1969-70 (He made the Final Four twice at Virginia, but he was also the head coach of the losing team in the biggest upset in college hoops history when Chaminade, an NAIA school with only 900 students, defeated No. 1-ranked Virginia and Ralph Sampson in December 1982)

26-3 — Digger Phelps, Fordham, 1970-71 (He made his name at Notre Dame, where he halted UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in January 1974)

26-8 – Tony Bennett, Washington State, 2006-07 (Doing that at Washington State defies logic, but Bennett has done it at Virginia too)

26-9 — Mark Few, Gonzaga, 1999-2000 (He will be taking the Zags to the NCAA tournament for the 22nd time in his 23 years as their head coach. The one exception was 2020, when there was no NCAA tournament) 

24-3 – Dick Harp, Kansas, 1956-57 (Harp actually was head coach for two years at William Jewell College eight years before he became the Jayhawks head coach, but we don’t count the William Jewell years. At Kansas Harp succeeded Phog Allen and  inherited Wilt Chamberlain to reach the 1957 NCAA finals, losing in triple overtime to North Carolina)

6-0 — Steve Fisher, Michigan, 1988-89 (He took over for Bill Frieder, who accepted the Arizona State job just before the start of the NCAA tournament.  Under Fisher, the Wolverines won the national championship that season).

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Most surprising Pac-12 team

Washington – You can make a strong case for Arizona, which was picked to finish fourth but ran away with the conference championship and is ranked No. 2 in the country. But we are going with Washington, which finished 11th last year with a 4-16 mark and was picked to finish 11th this season. The Huskies finished tied for fifth and are playing their best basketball heading into the Pac-12 tournament.

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Most disappointing Pac-12 team

Oregon State – The Beavers had three starters back from a squad that reached the Elite Eight last year and were picked to finish in a tie for fourth (with Arizona) this season. But Oregon State turned into one of the worst teams in the country, going 1-19 in the conference. Its 3-27 overall record represents the worst winning percentage in Oregon State history and a first-round loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament would set a school record for losses in a season. The Beavers have lost 17 straight games, and only Delaware State (23 straight losses), Lamar (22) and Georgetown (20) have longer active losing streaks.

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Most inexplicable season by a Pac-12 team

Oregon – The Ducks beat UCLA twice and USC once (and nearly beat the Trojans a second time), and they nearly beat Arizona in Tucson, something no other team came close to doing. But Oregon also lost to 10th-place Cal at home by 14 points, lost to Arizona State by 24 points and lost to Washington and Washington State by double-digit margins in its final two games when it desperately needed wins to earn an NCAA tournament berth.

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Team likely to pull the biggest surprise in Pac-12 tournament

Arizona State – There are three candidates here: 1. Oregon, because you can never tell when the Ducks are going play like national championship contenders. 2. Colorado, because the Buffs have won seven of their last eight games, including a 16-point win over Arizona, and 3. Arizona State, which has won seven of its last eight games.

Arizona State is the choice because the Sun Devils finished with just a 10-10 conference mark while the other two teams had winning conference records and are not viewed as major underdogs like ASU is. You should note that Oregon State also finished with a 10-10 conference record last season when it rolled through the conference tournament and got all the way to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. Take a look at Marreon Jackson’s stat line in Saturday’s win over Stanford: 18 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 steals. Triple sixes for a team nicknamed the Devils? I hear eerie music in the background.

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Cover photo of Bennedict Mathurin by hris Coduto, USA TODAY Sports

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Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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