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Film Study: The Pac 12

This month on 'P.I. Pulse,’ Pro Insight’s Esayas Gebrekidan highlights over 100 college basketball players to watch after pouring through countless hours of film throughout the 2022-23 NCAA season and over the summer:

Ahead of last season, we analyzed a number of college basketball’s top returners and transfers via Film Study. Since it was a productive exercise and so well-received — we upped the ante this season. Over the next week, we’ll be publishing written analysis and video breakdowns on over 100 college players. Across each Power 6 conference and amidst Mid-Majors, who are the top returners? Transfers? How about those primed for a breakout season? We've got you covered. Stay tuned later this month for plenty of content on freshmen, as well.

With that said, let's get to it — we will continue with the Pac-12:

Top Returners

Oumar Ballo

7’0” Big | Arizona | Senior

During the 2022-2023 season, Ballo started every game, earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors while averaging 14.2p-8.6r-1.6a (all career-highs). A potential Pac-12 Player of the Year nomination could be in the cards as he enters the 2023-24 season as Arizona’s top-producing returner.

Offensively, Ballo scores via post-ups, dump-offs, lobs, cuts, pick-and-rolls, put-backs, and by rim running in transition. According to Synergy, post-ups accounted for 40% of his offense and he converted 60% of the time a season ago. He carves out space, seals his opponent with his big frame, and finishes with both hands, keeping the ball high and away from opponents. In pick-and-roll situations, Ballo rolls hard to the rim after setting screens, and he has been quite successful at converting easy buckets, making 71% of his attempts as a roller, last season. His rolls not only allow him to convert a high percentage of his attempts, but also collapses the defense, creating opportunities for his teammates to get uncontested looks from 3. He’s remained active on the offensive boards throughout his college career, posting a career-high 2 offensive RPG in 2022-23.

Ballo averaged 1.3 BPG last season, but he is a major presence in the paint that deters opponents. He shows good awareness and instincts as a help defender, too, constantly cutting off baseline drives.

Adem Bona

6’10” Big | UCLA | Sophomore

The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year will be stepping into an even bigger role for the Bruins this season. Bona is a strong, athletic, high motor big who will get more than his fair share of opportunities to produce as a sophomore.

Bona is somewhat limited offensively, with all his field goal attempts coming inside the paint, but he is an unstoppable force and hard to contain. In post-up situations last season, Bona constantly flexed his strength and ability to throw his weight around, bullying opponents and finishing through contact. Possessing great speed and explosiveness, he beats opponents up the court with regularity, and converted 89.5% of his transition attempts at the rim as a freshman.

Defensively, Bona will continue to display his versatility and play with the same trademark energy and effort he’s shown since high school. His versatility is evident in his ability to switch and defend. In pick-and-roll coverage, he has shown he can stay in front, he moves well laterally and he’s still capable of using his length to contest shots. An excellent interior defender, he protects the paint while holding opponents to subpar shooting at the rim (sub-40% last season). He averaged an impressive 1.7 BPG as a freshman, posting a 9.1% block percentage, good for #14 in the country and #2 in the Pac 12.

Branden Carlson

7’0” Big | Utah | Senior

Branden Carlson returned to Utah with the goal of getting to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his career (and what would be the first in nearly a decade). At 7’0”, he is a mobile big who can space the floor and protect the paint. His ability to be productive in the paint will be key to the success of the program this season. The shooting he provides is an added bonus that makes the Utes hard to defend. Playing with more finesse than physicality, he does a great job getting to his spots in the post and positioning himself for success.

With field goal attempts out of the post accounting for nearly half of his offense, Carlson converted 53.7% of his post-ups in 2022-23. On face-ups, he displayed an ability to put the ball on the floor and create for himself, converting 60% of those attempts a year ago. Also in his arsenal on the offensive end — his ability to space the floor — where he functions as a pick-and-pop threat, creating matchup problems for opposing defenses. In pick-and-pop situations, Carlson converted 38.1% 3FG in 2022-23. Throughout his college career, he has provided a consistent effort on the offensive boards and in 2022-23, he pulled in a career-high 2.2 offensive RPG, averaging 1.429 PPP, falling in the 92nd percentile nationally.

On the defensive end of the floor, Calrson’s impact starts with his ability to lock down the paint. Leading the Pac-12 in 2022-23 (and ranked #22 nationally) with 2.0 BPG, he thrives as a help and weak-side defender understanding when to help, showing good instincts and timing on blocks or contests. When he defends in the post, he makes opposing bigs work hard to establish position. He's able to use his strength effectively and often "walls up" to contest attempts, showing good discipline by playing vertically. As the primary defender in 2022-23, he held opponents to just 35.6% FG and 28.6% 3FG.

Tristan da Silva

6’9” Forward | Colorado | Senior

Tristan da Silva is coming off a strong season that saw him named to the All-Pac-12 Conference First Team, making him a player to key in on this season, having recently been included on the Karl Malone Watch List.

Offensively, da Silva scores in a variety of ways at three levels — he can create, play on or off the ball and he looks to crash the glass for tap outs or put-backs. He averaged 15.9 PPG a season ago while shooting 39.4% from 3, 48% on mid-range attempts and 59.7% at the rim, with the ability to finish with either hand. A valuable floor-spacer, da Silva has also shown he can put the ball on the floor and create offense for himself with his ability to gain separation off the dribble using shot fakes and jabs.

He provides Colorado with versatility on the defensive end, too, with his ability to defend multiple positions. At 6’9”, da Silva can hold his own in the post where he held opponents to 44% shooting on post up attempts, last season. He also does a great job as a help defender and protecting the paint, having held opponents to 37.7% on attempts at the rim in the half court in 2022-23.

N’Faly Dante

6’11” Big | Oregon | Senior

The Ducks have one of the best bigs on the West Coast and can make a strong case for Dante being the best in the country. In his 26 MPG last season, he averaged 13.4p-8.4r-1.1a-1.4b-1.1s while being named to the All-Pac 12 First Team. At 6’11”, Dante has great size, length and elite physical tools while playing with great energy and effort on both ends of the floor. As he enters this season, he has already been recognized as a player to watch by being included on the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Watch List.

Simply put, Dante is an unstoppable force in the paint on the offensive end of the floor. Scoring in the post, off dump-offs, put-backs and in transition, he shot 61.4% FG with 97% of his makes coming in the paint in 2022-23. In the post, Dante does a great job carving out space and/or sealing his opponents, often drop-stepping into his comfort zone with an ability to finish with both hands around the rim. He has also shown good decision making, passing out of the post on double and triple teams to find spot-up shooters. In pick-and-roll situations, Dante sets good, hard screens and rolls to the rim with pace while playing big and calling for the ball.

On the defensive end of the floor, Dante does a solid job protecting the paint, holding opponents to 32.1% FG on post ups and 47.8% on attempts at the rim. Averaging 1.2 BPG, Dante does a nice job using his big frame and length to deter drivers and alter shots in the paint.

Boogie Ellis

6’2” Guard | USC | Senior

Ellis possesses quickness, crafty ball handling, a strong feel for the game, and an ability to score at will and will be key to USC’s success this season. After averaging 17.7p-3.7r-3.1r-1.4s as he shot 38.6% 3FG in 2022-23, he will look to build off that momentum heading into his senior season.

Ellis has the ability to control a game as a scorer and with the strides he’s made throughout college as a creator. As the primary ball handler, he excels in pick-and-roll situations, which accounted for nearly one-third of his possessions, last season. In these situations, his shooting from range increased to 43.5% 3FG, he shot 46% from mid-range and approximately 40% of assists on the season came out of pick-and-roll sets.

After averaging 1.5 APG at Memphis, Ellis has improved as a creator in each subsequent season, averaging 2.4 APG in 2021-22 and 3.1 APG in 2022-23. His ability to break down the defense off the dribble and make reads as he gets down hill allows him to collapse the defense and create opportunities for his bigs or shooters on the perimeter.

Spencer Jones

6’7” Forward | Stanford | Senior

Jones’ reason for coming back for a fifth year was getting to the NCAA Tournament, which would mark the first time in nearly 10 years for the Cardinal program. At 6'7”, Jones has connected on 39.2% of his attempts from three point range during his career. He has a high release, making his shot nearly unblockable, allowing him to shoot over just about any defender. His ability to knock down shots on the move makes him a tough player to scout — when he comes off screens, he shot 36.4% 3FG, last season. His transition offense makes up a significant portion of his game, accounting for about 15% of his possessions. In these situations, he's able to showcase his shooting ability, boasting an impressive 44.2% success rate from beyond the arc. When it comes to corner 3s in transition, his shooting percentage jumps even higher, to a ridiculous 67%.

Jones has proven to be versatile on the defensive end of the floor, as he can defend on the perimeter as well as in the post. On the ball, he moves well laterally, stays in front and cuts off driving lanes. Off the ball, he uses his length and active hands to play the gaps, generating deflections and steals.

Jordan Pope

6’2” Guard | Oregon State | Sophomore

Pope shined as a freshman leading Oregon State in points per game (12.6) and assists per game (2.3) while shooting 37.7% 3FG. A crafty and shifty ball handler who uses his body to get separation off the dribble, he can get downhill while creating for both himself and teammates. Another one of our 'overachieving freshmen' a season ago, Pope converted from range with a mix of catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble attempts, but he also has the ability to attack closeouts and get to his mid-range jumper when run off the line, connecting on 40% of such attempts in 2022-23.

Pope’s goal heading into his last season of high school (2021-2022) and first season of college basketball was to improve on the defensive end and make an impact. In his first season with Oregon State, he did just that, embracing the defensive end while holding opponents to 37.4% FG. He plays with energy, shows good defensive activity, applies ball pressure while staying in front of and cutting off drivers and plays a more physical style of basketball than in the past.

KJ Simpson

6’2” Guard | Colorado | Junior

With Colorado returning their top two scorers from a season ago and bringing in a top-25 recruiting class, there is a clear path back to the NCAA Tournament. Enter Simpson, the junior guard who opted to return for his third season in Boulder, raising the bar and expectations further for this program.

Simpson is a score-first guard who can carry his teams to wins with his self-creation, evidenced by the 6-1 record in games where he’s scored 20+ points. He will need to improve his efficiency, coming off a season in which he put up 14 attempts/game and shot 39% FG and 27.6% 3FG. In limited possessions, he proved to be capable of coming off screens and rising up with space, converting 40% of his 3FG attempts in 2022-23. Historically, he has excelled in his ability to beat opponents off the dribble, getting to his floater and converting over half the time (50.9% FG, last season). As a creator, Simpson gets others involved and makes good reads in the moment, finding teammates on cuts with passes over the defense or threading the needle with pocket passes.

Simpson has displayed an ability to defend but also has the potential to tap into another gear on the defensive end. On the ball, he plays with good defensive activity, with an ability to turn ball handlers, and plays with active hands — he disrupts his opponents while embracing the physicality on this end. Off the ball, he does a good staying with his defender as he locks and trails and is typically right there in position on the catch.

Top Transfers

Isaac Jones

6’9” Forward | Washington State | Senior

Jones has the potential to be one of the more intriguing transfers in the country. At 6'9”, Jones is skilled, athletic, has a great feel and understanding of the game, and can play inside and out. His addition to WSU bolsters their frontcourt and gives them a player that could possibly wind up as the PAC-12’s Newcomer of the Year.

Down the road at Idaho last season, Jones ranked #9 in the country in FG% at 62.9, in large part thanks to his ability to score in the post. Post offense accounted for nearly half of his offensive output in 2022-23 and in these instances Jones converted 64% on his post-up attempts, showing good touch and an ability to finish with both hands around the rim. Jones does a great job screening opponents and rolling hard to the rim and also showcased his development and expanding game, knocking down an occasional pick-and-pop look from behind the arc. Jones plays with great effort and energy, which translates in how he crashes the offensive boards, grabbing 2 per game and converting 88% (22/25) of his putback attempts, last season.

On the defensive end, Jones plays with great energy and effort, has a high motor and is an active on-ball defender. Jones altered many more attempts at the rim than his 1.1 BPG average in 2022-23 indicates, evidenced by his 47.8% FG in the paint as the primary defender.

Caleb Love

6’4” Guard | Arizona | Senior

At 6’4”, Love is a valuable addition to Arizona's team as he brings experience, speed, athleticism, scoring ability, and playmaking skills to the perimeter. He can push the ball in transition off of rebounds and has the quickness/burst to beat opponents up the floor for easy outlet passes. He can beat opponents off the dribble to get to his mid-range jumper or to the rim where he embraces and finishes through contact. Having averaged north of 3 APG throughout his college career, he does a nice job getting his teammates involved with his ability to break down and collapse defenses off the bounce.

In Tucson, Love will play in a system that emphasizes ball movement, spacing and three-point shooting. Playing alongside other guards who can create will help improve his efficiency as a spot-up shooter, allowing him to play more off the ball than in Chapel Hill.

Embracing the defensive end of the floor will go a long way for Love, who has historically shown he can defend with his ability to move and be disruptive with his strength and length.

DJ Rodman

6’6” Forward | USC | Senior

Rodman is an experienced player who will fill a 3-and-D role with the Trojans. He should excel playing with Boogie Ellis and Isaiah Collier, giving them space to drive with his ability to knock down 3 as he converted 41% of his catch-and-shoot 3FG last season in Pullman. He will also provide the Trojans with versatility on the defensive end with his size and frame as someone who’s proven to be able to defend multiple positions.

Lazar Stefanovic

6’7” Guard | UCLA | Junior

Stefanovic is a physical combo guard with good positional size. He was in and out of the starting lineup in his two seasons at Utah but remained productive. He has the ability to have big scoring nights like his 26p-6r-5a game against Stanford where he connected on six three-pointers. He will provide the Bruins with a floor-spacer (35.9% 3FG in 2022-23) and secondary playmaker (2.7 APG in 2022-23). On catch-and-shoot three-point attempts from the corner, he shot 43% last season, showing he can be a reliable release option for Adem Bona on double teams.

Primed to Breakout

Nate Bittle

7’0” Big | Oregon | Junior

Bittle did a great job being productive in his 18 MPG last season, averaging 7.3p-5.1r-1.2b on 33.9% 3FG and 49% FG. In Oregon's final three games of the season which ended in a quarterfinal loss in the NIT, Bittle averaged 15p-7.6r-1.6b on 48% shooting from the floor and 60% 3FG. As Bittle begins his third year with the Ducks, he will look to build off the success he had down the stretch, last season.

With Oregon returning their top player (N’Faly Dante) from a season ago, Bittle will help space the floor as he connected on 40% 3PT on his spot up attempts from long range in 2022-23. Much more than a catch-and-shoot option, he can play out of the post, in pick-and-roll, from the short corner, and is great on the offensive boards.

Defensively, Bittle provides interior defense, rim protection and shot blocking, but has also shown an ability to defend away from the rim. In isolation situations, he held opponents to 26.3% FG in 2022-23, consistently playing long and using his length to avoid getting beat off the dribble.

Vincent Iwuchukwu

7’1” Big | USC | Sophomore

Due to a health scare, Iwuchukwu played in just 14 of games while starting in 5, averaging 13.8 MPG as a freshman. He played well in the minutes he earned a season ago and will look to carve out a bigger role for the Trojans, moving forward.

Iwuchukwu's role was limited on the offensive end, but he made the most of his opportunity, averaging 5.4 PPG, shooting 50.9% from the field and grabbing 1 offensive RPG. He primarily scores on rolls, face-ups/post offense, cuts and by running the floor in transition. Dating back to high school, he’s displayed an ability to put the ball on the floor and attack opposing bigs going right or left off the dribble and creating contact to get space.

Iwuchukwu showcased the upside he has on the defensive end in 2022-23, averaging 1 BPG and playing with effort and hustle, using his size and length to protect the paint and contest shots away from the rim. In pick-and-roll coverage, he can show on screens, hedge and play long, allowing his teammates to get back in the play as he recovers to the roller. As a help defender, he’s shown good awareness and instincts, cutting off drives up the middle as well as baseline drivers.

Maxime Raynaud

7’1” Big | Stanford | Junior

If his summer playing for the France U20 team is any indication of what his 2023-24 season will look like, Stanford is in good hands. Raynaud helped lead France to the U20 European Championship, averaging 14p-5.1r-2.3a-1.1b, in which he converted 70% FG at the rim and hit 7 of his 8 attempts from deep (87.5% 3FG).

Raynaud clearly has the ability to space the floor with his shooting. Although he struggled from range last season, he connected on 42.9% of his attempts during his freshman season. Playing off the ball, he rarely stops cutting or moving and does a commendable job flashing to the high post. He plays well out of the dunker spot, consistently relocating along the baseline, keeping driving lanes open. He will benefit from playing with a seasoned guard in transfer Jared Bynum who has thrived playing alongside bigs at Providence.

Defensively, Raynaud can provide versatility. In pick-and-roll coverage, he is capable of switching and holding his own, using his length to keep opponents in front as he plays both man and ball. He will need to improve as a rebounder, shot blocker and rim protector, but if he can make strides in these areas, the Cardinal could make some noise in the final season of the Pac 12.


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