Back the Pac: Mathurin rightly won Pac-12 Player of the Year Award

The Pac-12 featured many great players this year. Oregon’s senior guard Will Richardson, Arizona’s junior center Christian Koloko and UCLA’s junior guard Johnny Juzang immediately come to mind as some of the top players from the 2021-22 season.

But the player who won the Pac-12 Player of the Year award was Arizona Wildcats’ sophomore guard Bennedict Mathurin. Posting 17.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, Mathurin seems to have won the trophy for good reason. 

Well, enter Washington’s graduate guard Terrell Brown Jr., who averaged 21.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game this season.

All of a sudden, it doesn’t look like Mathurin is so deserving.

It’s a shame because he absolutely does deserve the award. Being the best player on the No. 2 team in the country should earn Mathurin a lot of praise, but some fans and critics believe that Brown was snubbed.

I get it. I truly do. Mathurin was distinctly the best player on Arizona’s roster, but the stacked team makes Mathurin’s impact less than Brown’s. Brown was able to contribute more to Washington’s wins than Mathurin could. It’s not too difficult to understand.

The issue with that logic is that Washington only went 17-15 on the season. Arizona had 16 more wins than the Huskies after the first weekend of March Madness.

On a 17-15 team, Mathurin could have carried the same load as Brown. If Mathurin has shown he can carry the burden at times for a 33-3 team, who’s to say he couldn’t show out every night for a team barely at .500?

Brown’s supporters (Let’s be clear, I am one too, just not for this award) will point to his four 30-point or more performances. Mathurin only scored 30 points twice, but he made these performances count. Both of those games were wins for the Wildcats and were against Illinois and TCU, two teams that made the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies went 2-2 when Brown scored 30 points or more with the wins coming against South Dakota State and Utah. See the difference?

More than just being on a great team, Mathurin has an accolade that Brown doesn’t; Mathurin is the only player to rank among the top 15 players in the Pac-12 in scoring, 3-pointers made, three-point percentage, field goal percentage, rebounding and free- throw percentage. Even when he is the only player keeping his team afloat, Brown couldn’t crack the top 15 in any of those categories.

That proves Mathurin is an all-around great player. Brown is too, but defense takes a backseat to his offense on many occasions.

Again, to reiterate, Brown is clearly the second best player in the conference. On some nights he might be the best, but Mathurin’s production contributed to a lot more success for Arizona which makes up for any slight statistical advantage Brown has. 

An aspect that gets forgotten in this discussion is the name of the award: “Player of the Year” — it’s not an MVP trophy. Brown very well could have been the conference’s MVP since the Huskies are next to nothing without him, but Mathurin distinguishes himself when the debate shifts to what the award actually is.

To most college basketball fans, Terrell Brown Jr. is not a familiar name. Bennedict Mathurin is. 

The Wildcats are a well-known team and one of the most popular picks for people’s March Madness brackets. The Pac-12 should be ecstatic that one of its own continues to set itself apart on the national stage. 

If one of the team’s players is near the top of the conference in nearly every statistical category and there’s an argument to be made that he could be Player of the Year, the conference has to reward that.

This season, no team has brought more attention to the Pac-12 than Arizona, and no player has brought more attention to the league than Mathurin. He simply has to be given the distinction.

My point with all of this is that great stats don’t mean much in the Player of the Year conversation if it’s for a sub-par team. And that’s what Washington was this season, for the most part. Remove Koloko, sophomore guard Dalen Terry and sophomore forward Azuolas Tubelis, and Arizona would resemble something closer to Washington’s roster this year. 

More weapons on a stacked Wildcats team means Mathurin’s ability to put up similar stats to Brown is even more impressive.

Brown is a great story, but he is not the conference’s player of the year.

Matthew Andrade is a sophomore providing analysis on Pac-12 basketball in all its glory. His column, “Back the Pac,” runs every other Friday.