Friday, March 9, 2012

How Good is the Pac-12 Player of The Year?

How bad is the Pac-12 in men's basketball?

It's no secret that the conference is down--way down--this year, and in danger of having, embarrassingly, only one team advance to the NCAA tournament. But something just happened that shows just how bad the conference is. It named Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez Pac-12 Player of the Year.

No disrespect to Gutierrez, but if this guy its top player, the conference is in deep trouble. Handing him the award is an unintentional indictment of the league's talent level, acknowledging there wasn't much to choose from.

Gutierrez, though, does have value. A bundle of energy, he plays with incredible heart and boasts an exceptionally high basketball IQ. A top-notch leader, he fuels the Cal engine. Without him, Cal (24-8), the second-place team in the Pac-12, would be several notches worse. His signature skill, though, is playing defense. Appropriately, he was also named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

But the conference Player of the Year has to be an offensive force. That's not Gutierrez. He's not a big scorer, averaging just 12.9 points a game, rarely topping 20.  He's not even the best offensive threat on his own team--Allen Crabbe is.

Compare Gutierrez to players in other major conferences and he doesn't hold up very well. On most good teams in the ACC or the SEC, he wouldn't even start. Imagine him on a loaded, high-flying powerhouse like Kentucky. Have you seen those guys play? The Pac-12 Player of the Year would be no more than a role player coming off the bench, logging limited minutes.

What's sad is that, in the Pac-12,  with its low talent level, Gutierrez has no real competition. You can't point to any other Pac-12 players and argue they should have won the award. When the league is bristling with skilled athletes you can name at least half dozen players who'd be viable contenders for the award. But not this season. The other all-conference players, including Cal's Crabbe, Washington's Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross,  Colorado's Andre Roberson and Arizona's Kyle Fogg, all have holes in their game and just aren't conference Player of the Year material.

At the end of the season, Gutierrez didn't look much like the conference Player of the Year. When Cal desperately needed two wins, his game went south. In the loss to Colorado, he failed to score. When Stanford beat Cal Sunday, he contributed eight points and four turnovers. To his credit, though, he scored 22 points--19 in the second half--leading Cal to a 77-71 win over Stanford Thursday night in the Pac-12 tournament. Just in time, he emerged from that mini-slump and lived up to that Player of the Year billing.