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Pac-12 basketball: Washington State’s Kyle Smith, Myles Rice are frontrunners for postseason awards

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

With the regular season winding down, there are six teams in contention for the top four seeds in the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament and a handful hoping for at-large berths into the NCAAs.

But when it comes to postseason award winners, which are selected by the Pac-12 coaches, we have significant clarity.

The front-runners are as follows …

Player of the YearArizona G Caleb Love: The leading scorer and chief playmaker on the conference’s best team would have our support if votes were due today (and if we had a vote). Love is averaging 21.4 points in conference games and has played well in big moments with 55 points in two games against Washington State and 36 at Oregon.

Coach of the YearWSU’s Kyle Smith: The Cougars were whacked by attrition last spring and picked 10th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. Currently, they are one game out of first place and on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble – all with limited NIL resources. Smith is a leading candidate for national Coach of the Year honors, not to mention a fat new contract.

Freshman of the YearWashington State G Myles Rice: If Rice’s candidacy were merely based on his court leadership and stellar production (15.4 points and 3.7 assists), he would have a strong case. Add his personal story – he missed the 2022-23 season because of cancer (Hodgkin’s lymphoma) – and the evidence is overwhelming.

Defensive Player of the YearArizona State G Frankie Collins: The disruptive dynamo leads the Pac-12 and is sixth in the country in steals per game (2.8). If Collins holds that pace through the remainder of the season, it would be the fourth-highest season average in the Pac-12 this century.

The Hotline will publish our selections for the postseason awards and all-conference teams after the regular season (but before the Pac-12 tournament).

To the power ratings …

1. Arizona (21-6, 12-4)

Last week: 1

Results: lost to WSU 77-74, beat UW 91-75

NET ranking: No. 3

Next up: at Arizona State (Wednesday)

Comment: If you’re curious about recent results in this series, know that Arizona has won three in a row in Tempe (by two, 12 and nine points) and blasted ASU by 45 points two weeks ago in McKale Center. Unless the Wildcats contribute heavily to their own demise, they should claim yet another victory over their in-state rivals.

2. WSU (21-7, 12-5)

Last week: 2

Results: won at Arizona 77-74, lost at ASU 73-61

NET ranking: No. 36

Next up: vs. USC (Thursday)

Comment: Life is so much easier as an upstart, but that existence ended the moment WSU won in Tucson last week. How will the Cougars perform as a front-runner within the conference and on the brink of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008? We’re skeptical. In fact, the Hotline envisions a USC victory Thursday night.

3. Oregon (18-9, 10-6)

Last week: 3

Results: won at Stanford 78-65, lost at Cal 69-64

NET ranking: No. 64

Next up: vs. Oregon State (Wednesday)

Comment: The Ducks performed with appropriate focus and energy in their pre-Arizona matchup last month, easily dispatching ASU in Matthew Knight Arena. The Beavers pose a more serious threat to Oregon before Dana Altman and Co. head to the desert later this week.

4. Colorado (18-9, 9-7)

Last week: 5

Results: beat Utah 89-65

NET ranking: No. 35

Next up: vs. Cal (Wednesday)

Comment: In the race for the fourth seed in the Pac-12 tournament (and an opening-round bye), the Buffaloes possess an easier finishing schedule than UCLA. In fact, it’s significantly easier.

5. UCLA (14-13/9-8)

Last week: 4

Results: lost to USC 62-56

NET ranking: No. 112

Next up: at Washington (Thursday)

Comment: It wasn’t long ago that the Bruins were riding a five-game winning streak as they prepared for a three-game homestand. Who figured they would lose two of the three, along with every ounce of their hard-earned momentum?

The rest: No. 6, California (13-15, 9-8). No. 7, Utah (16-11, 7-9). No. 8, Arizona State (14-14, 8-9). No. 9, Washington (15-13, 7-10). No. 10, Stanford (12-15, 7-10). No. 11, USC (11-16, 5-11). No. 12, Oregon State (12-16, 4-13).