Ask Colorado coach Tad Boyle who’s the best player in the Pac-12. He’ll say it’s a guy who hasn’t been named Player of the Week once; he isn’t even the leading scorer on his own team.
Boyle says it’s Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez.
Ask Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, and the best player is the Beavers’ leading scorer, the guard who often gets favorably compared to Gary Payton.
It’s Jared Cunningham.
Unless, of course, it’s Washington guard Tony Wroten. Or Gutierrez’s Cal teammate, Allen Crabbe.
Trying to determine the best player in a conference is typically fanatical folly. Having the best player is not as important as having very good players. The fact there is an end-of-year award to name the Pac-12 Player of the Year is good enough, the end of all debate and a note in a trophy case somewhere between Tucson and Seattle.
With the Pac-12 schedule more than half over, however, at least half a dozen players are strong candidates for the award. It’s hard not to wonder …
Cunningham is a high-flying steal wizard who could be the first Oregon State player to win the award since Payton. Gutierrez could be the first to wear a ponytail — although former Arizona State star James Harden had one coming out of his chin.
Then there’s Wroten, who has precedent going against him: Only two freshmen have won the award. So maybe his teammate, sophomore Terrence Ross, who averages 15.2 points and 6.8 rebounds is a more likely candidate.
The race for the Player of the Year award, which, rightly, isn’t quite yet on anyone’s radar, is much like that for the league title itself: wide open. And, according to Boyle, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
“Whoever can help their team win their league is a guy who should be a player of the year candidate,” Boyle said.
So does that rule out Cunningham, whose Beavers (15-8, 5-6) would need a historic run through the conference tournament to claim a conference championship. Still, in the 10 years since the Pac-10/12 instituted a conference tournament, player of the year has come from a team that won neither the regular season or tournament championships four times.
So does that open the door for Colorado’s Andre Roberson, the only player to average a double-double? Or Brock Motum, the Pac-12’s best big man?
“I don’t think the most valuable player or the player of the year is relegated to the team that wins the conference,” Robinson said. “I think it’s the guy who does the most for his team.”
Given that, here is the case for each of the early top candidates with (approximate and non-betting) odds that they win the award in March:
Jorge Gutierrez, Cal • The guard has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2-to-1 and, despite being 6-foot-3, he rebounds like a power forward. 3:1.
Jared Cunningham, OSU • The Oakland native leads the conference in points and steals. 9:2.
Tony Wroten, Washington • Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Kevin Love won the award as freshmen. Wroten’s jump shot is circumspect, but plays his best in big games. 15:1.
Others • Allen Crabbe, Cal, 20:1; Terrence Ross, UW, 20:1; Kyle Fogg, Arizona, 50:1; Andre Roberson, CU, 50:1; Brock Motum, WSU, 100:1; Devoe Joseph, Oregon, 100:1.