Top Pac-12 Returning Guards: #1 – McKinley Wright. Jr., Colorado

Today, we are finishing up our Pac-12 returning guards countdown with our #1 ranking – our final player feature to be published until after NBA Draft decisions that are made. This #1 slot belongs to a player who will undoubtedly be the favorite to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year if he returns for the 2020-2021 season in McKinley Wright of Colorado. Wright is not a projected draft pick right now, but he has not withdrawn from the draft process after hiring an NCAA-approved agent in May. One Pac-12 coach said of Wright: “If he returns, he could be next year’s Payton Pritchard”. Pritchard was the conference Player of the Year this past season and saw his draft skyrocket from on the outside looking in to a potential early 2nd-round pick. 

The hype is real and warranted for Wright, who proved to be one of the most versatile guards in the country during his junior season for the Buffalo. An effective three-year starter in Colorado, the Minnesota native averaged 14.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists on 45% shooting over the course of the year, putting Colorado in position for an NCAA Tournament berth, had the season made it that far. It would have been Colorado’s first tournament appearance since 2016. 

Wright kicked off his season with an impressive effort in a conference game versus Arizona State, posting 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. The turn of the calendar was good to Wright, who was on fire in late December and early January, torching opposing defenses for three double-doubles in four contests. He started this streak with a 29-point, 10 rebound effort against #13 Dayton in an overtime victory and notched double-doubles against Oregon State and Iona as well. 

Sandwiched between those two games was a 21-point showing against #4 Oregon. His successful streak also kicked off an absurd end-of-year run that saw him notch at least 10 points in 21 of his final 22 games. Consistency was the name of the game, as despite playing alongside projected first round pick Tyler Bey, Wright took advantage of his opportunities and consistently turned in impressive efforts for the Buffalo. He notched three more double-doubles, against Washington State, Oregon State, and Stanford and ended the year averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds over his last five games. If that hot streak and his overall consistency rolls over into a potential senior campaign, Wright should be the odds-on favorite for the Player of the Year award in the Pac-12, and become a very intriguing draft prospect in 2021.

Saturday’s Pac-12 Recaps and Takeaways

The Pac-12 had four matchups on Saturday, with one big upset and a huge statement victory among the results. Here are all the recaps and takeaways from Saturday along with the games to come today.

Arizona State 66 Arizona 65

The Recap: 22 was a special number for Arizona State as they held Arizona to 22 second-half points to rally from a 22-point deficit and beat the #22 Wildcats 66-65. Remy Martin scored 24 to lead the Sun Devils while Alonzo Verge sank the game-winning layup with 9 seconds left. 

The Takeaway: Arizona is not good away from home. The Wildcats are ranked due largely to their 10-1 home record, but they are now 0-4 in road games. Home court matters a lot to this squad – they beat the Sun Devils by 28 at home just weeks earlier. 

Colorado 76 Washington 62

The Recap: Tyler Bey scored 16, McKinley Wright IV had 15, and the #23 Buffaloes rode a 51-point first half to an easy win over Washington at home, improving to 5-2 in Pac-12 play and a three-way tie for second in the conference. 

The Takeaway: Colorado’s depth is a huge strength: Big comebacks are hard enough to make, but overcoming an 18-point halftime deficit is near impossible when your opponent continuously has fresher legs on the court. Colorado had four players play at least 12 minutes off the bench, while Washington had one such player. Overall, Colorado’s bench outscored Washington’s 25-4, which may be a difference-maker in the postseason. 

USC 75 Oregon State 55

The Recap: Propelled by Onyeka Okongwu’s 18 points, USC dominated both halves and earned a huge road victory at Oregon State, keeping pace with Colorado and Oregon for second in the conference with their fourth win in five games.

The Takeaway: USC may be the most dangerous Pac-12 team in the Playoff: USC is now 5-2 in true road games and 7-4 in games played outside their home arena. That’s a huge advantage on every other Pac-12 team, and it could make a huge difference in the postseason, where most if not all games will be played on neutral courts.

Utah 76 Washington State 64 

The Recap: The Utes got a big day from Rylan Jones (24 points) and huge contributions off the bench from Mikael Jantunen (16 points) as they handled the Cougars for the second straight win following a four-game skid. 

The Takeaway: Utah’s defense is their key to victory. The Utes have a decent offense that can put up 70 points a game, but they rarely blow you out of the water with a jaw-dropping offensive performance. However, in four Pac-12 losses, Utah is giving up 84 points a game, compared to 66 points a game in their 3 wins. If Utah figures out how to play consistently good defense, this team could make moves in March. 

Friday’s Games

None

Sunday’s Games

UCLA @ #12 Oregon

Stanford @ Cal 

Pac-12 Status Report: Struggles On The Bubble

Last year, the Pac-12 sent just 3 teams to the NCAA tournament, the fewest of any Power-6 conference, and this year looks to be more of the same, unless some of the teams stuck in the mud can get unstuck really fast. As a whole, the conference is struggling, featuring just three ranked teams and just one in the Top 20. Arizona is still the title favorite in my mind, but Oregon and Colorado also seem like viable candidates. Identifying biggest risers and fallers is difficult in a conference where every team seems to be playing with consistent mediocrity, but here is our best shot:

Biggest Risers: USC

  • The Trojans actually lead the Pac-12 with a 4-1 mark in conference play, but that one loss was a 32-point demolition, suffered at the hands of the Washington Huskies. USC responded to that with three straight wins – but two of those were against UCLA and Cal, two of the worst teams in the league. Saturday’s home victory over Stanford showcased USC’s potential, but whether they’re a tournament team is somewhat undecided.

Biggest Fallers: Oregon State

  • I listed the Beavers as a team that, while a title seemed unlikely, could make a decent run in the conference tournament, especially given their 17-point win over Arizona. Oregon State followed this with two straight losses. Although their road loss to a solid Washington team can be excused, I cannot justify their 13-point loss to Washington State – quite possibly the worst team the conference and at the very least in the bottom echelon of teams. In a league with a core top 3 teams and a definitive ‘basement tier’, such a bad loss will quickly move you into the biggest faller category.

Quick Hits

  • Right now, I’m going to predict exactly 3 teams to make the NCAA tournament out of the Pac-12. Outside of Arizona, Oregon, and Colorado, I just don’t feel comfortable picking another of these squads to crack the field.
  • On the bubble, I’m listing 5 teams in order of how I rate their chances: Stanford, USC, Washington, Arizona State, and Oregon State.
  • As for teams that have no chance, I believe there are already four that have played themselves out of contention – Utah, UCLA, Washington State, and Cal.

Biggest Upcoming Games

  • USC @ Oregon State
  • UCLA @ #12 Oregon
  • Stanford @ Cal