Arizona Basketball

Sean Miller discusses potential Pac-12 award winners

Kadeem Allen has made plenty of hustle plays for Arizona this season. (Photo courtesy Stan Liu, Arizona Athletics)

The Pac-12 men’s basketball awards are a week away, and Arizona’s best chance for an individual award likely will be senior guard Kadeem Allen as the top defender.

Let’s call the Player of the Year award a competition between Oregon forward Dillon Brooks and UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, who, in turn, would be the favorite for the conference’s top freshman. Ball has an edge over Washington’s high-scoring point guard Markelle Fultz (whose team is 2-14 in league play) and Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, in a shooting slump the second half of league play.

I asked Arizona coach Sean Miller on Monday if he would favor a perimeter defender or a rim protector when considering a top defender.

“No. 1,” he said, “what team do they play on, because, usually, great individual defenders are playing on a winning team, part of a team defense that is very, very good.”

He then delved into the heart of the matter, because the choice for defensive player of the year could be between Allen (Mr. Perimeter Defender) and Oregon spring-loaded big man Jordan Bell. The Wildcats and Ducks are tied for the Pac-12 lead at 15-2, each with one game remaining.

“Jordan Bell stands out to me as somebody who does everything,” Miller said.

“He can defend his man. The way Oregon chooses to play its defense, they switch a lot. He plays the 5. There aren’t many centers who can switch onto guards. But he can. He’s a great shot-blocker, he will get steals, and he rebounds. He’s a very, very unique player. …

“He’s experienced and he does a lot for Oregon, sometimes in an understated way.”

Bell, 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, is fourth in the conference in blocked shots (2.0 per game), 10th in rebounding (7.8) and eighth with 1.4 steals per game. No other big man has many steals per game. Allen is fifth in that category at 1.6.

Miller singled out Brooks and Allen when discussing the two best defenders in the league. Miller often this season has put Allen in the discussion for best defenders he has had at Arizona.

Miller hasn’t had a Pac-12 defensive player of the year, although Kyle Fogg, Nick Johnson, T.J. McConnell (twice), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski made the five-man All-Defense team.

“(Allen) guards the other team’s best perimeter player night in and night out, plays on a good defensive team and has had big, big moments for us defensively this season.”

As for player of the year candidates?

“There are so many,” Miller said.

“Who wins the conference, certainly that’s big. Dillon Brooks, that’s hard to argue with him. He was the conference player of the year last season, and the only thing he’s done is become better this year. You talk about making big plays, and it’s not just hitting the buzzer shots or plays at the end of games, which he’s done. But he’s had big moment, big games, in general statistically in some of those key moments in Oregon’s season.

“UCLA has so many good players, but Lonzo Ball is another guy you can talk about it. I’m sure there are a lot of people that would look at somebody like Lauri on our team if we would win it.

“But there’s not a shortage of talent in this year’s Pac-12.”

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