When taking a peek at the Pac-12 conference standings, two teams stand out from amongst the pack – Arizona and Utah. With a crushing win over Washington on Friday night, Arizona bounced back from its surprising loss to rival Arizona State on Feb. 7. It had a blistering win over conference rival Oregon – a team which also deserves some tournament consideration – and followed it up two days later with a win over Oregon State on January 28 and 30 respectively.
Utah, meanwhile, has solidified itself as the No. 2 team in the conference, despite being unable to perform well against nationally-ranked opponents.
And while Stanford was once in the NCAA Tournament discussion not too long ago, has it played its way into the NIT?
To forgo any speculation, here’s a look at the resumes of these three teams.
When looking at the Arizona Wildcats, there is nothing that needs to be sugar-coated here. They are a dominant team. With a scoring margin of almost 17, they are now 9-2 in the conference and 21-3 overall. Not bad. Two big wins against ranked teams Gonzaga (in OT) and San Diego State show the promise this team has and what talent it brings to the table. Its conference loss to Oregon State was avenged later. The stain against it now is Arizona State, but it doesn’t seem like that loss has derailed it. (Don’t believe me? Ask Washington.)
Arizona also has a field goal percentage that is creeping up on a whopping 50 percent. It commits less turnovers per game and gets more rebounds, steals, and blocks during their games. Its intense defense stifles opponents while it spreads the ball and gets its offense going. It is just, without a doubt, a great all-around team.
- Stanley Johnson leads the team on the offensive scoring side of the ball with 14.8 ppg. He also leads the team in rebounds with 6.8 per game and is second on the team in steals. These aren’t outrageous stats for the leader of a team, which keeps pressing the overall teamwork this team has.
- Brandon Ashley, stats-wise, looks likes Johnson’s other half. With a .492 field goal percentage he rocks 11.4 ppg while shadowing Johnson in the other categories, but not by much.
- The man who makes the plays. T.J. McConnell. Coming in at 4th on the team in ppg with a 9.7, he is the man who distributes the ball and snatches it away from the opposing team. Drastically leading the team in assists per game at 5.9, he not only divvys up the ball to his teammates but he knows how to take it away as well, leading his team with 52 steals.
- Last but certainly not least is the big man. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson comes in with 11.3 ppg but adds a plethora of other stats to his game. Call him Arizona’s utility guy that can do it all. He is second on the team in rebounds with 6.5 per game and third on the team in steals with 28. The best thing about this guy? He does his job with 23 blocked shots, or one per game.
These guys aren’t the only reason they will go to the tournament but they are the front runners of the team. This team has amazing bench depth and a teamwork style that should get them deep into March.
The Utah Runnin’ Utes come in with a 9-2 conference and 19-4 overall record. Solidifying themselves as No.2 in the conference, they keep a decent lead on Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. After falling to Arizona in a conference bout two weeks ago, the Utes had a heartbreaking loss to UCLA. That won’t be enough to derail them yet – but against teams like UCLA, they really need to step up.
The problem here is that I give them an F in the category of taking on ranked teams. They haven’t found success against the better teams they play (1-3, with an overtime win over Wichita State). You have to be able to win the games that count when it truly matters.
Taking a look at the statistical side of the ball, Utah has a 17.2 lead in the scoring margin which is not bad for a conference number two team. A .500 field goal percentage shows their players’ athleticism in getting to the basket. But the money stat here? Assists per game is in the double digits compared to their opponents showing their all-around team play. Here is the three ballers I’m going to highlight for this team.
- Delon Wright is the team’s leading scorer (14.2 ppg), is deadly accurate for the amount of field goals he puts up (113-213, .531) and is 80 percent from the line. To go with those points, he adds 5.4 assists per game and adds 2.2 steals per game. An all-around leader, he’s number one on the team.
- On many teams, Jakob Poeltl would be the No. 1 guy, but for Utah, he makes a great inside complement to Wright. The 7-foot freshman forward has played outstanding. He is fourth on the team in points with 8.8 a game but within those points he’s throwing down a field goal percentage of .667 (80-120). That may be the best part, but let’s be honest, defensively this guy shows up every game. Tops on the team in rebounds with 7.4 a game he also averages 1.8 blocked shots a game. Which also leads the team. Can we get a team MVP over here? No, oh yeah, Wright is real.
- The other stud on the team is Brandon Taylor. With 11.1 ppg and stats that shadow Wright’s across the board this guy is nothing to snooze on. He leads the team with 3-pointers made and consistently puts in the time. He’s a great second option to Wright and puts up stats almost as frequently.
Stanford … oh man. What a pill to have to swallow. After putting together a solid season (with the exception of that DePaul loss), back-to-back losses to Washington State and UCLA has the Cardinal now hoping to eek into the tournament.
This team is the weakest on paper, but what it does have is a few studs. They have a few players playing hard and it shows on their stat sheets.
- Chasson Randle is a stud. Period. This guy knows how to play ball, and knows how to play it well. He tied a career-high 33 points in the loss to Washington State. He leads the team with 19.3 ppg, is first on the team in steals and tied for first in assists. He is an offensive threat that you have to stop and gameplan for.
- The other stud on the team is offensive and defensive guru Anthony Brown. He boasts 15.8 ppg (2nd on team) and is the team leader in rebounds (7.0) and 3-point percentage (.466) and the co-leader in assists. Oh yeah, and he’s second on the team in steals. This guy is a great complement to Randle and it has shown in their wins and losses.
- I have to mention the big man, too. Stefan Nastic is a beast. He consistently finds gold in his play. Behind these other two guys with 13.5 ppg, he is also second in rebounds. He also leads the team with 27 blocked shots and is always an inside threat to opponents.