Nowell is the only player in the Pac-12 who is shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 44 percent on three-pointers and 75 percent at the free-throw line. But Thybulle has 101 steals and needs 10 to break the Pac-12 single-season record. Who would you pick?
Matisse Thybulle or Jaylen Nowell?
With two games remaining in the regular season, the Pac-12 player of year race has seemingly narrowed to Washington’s dynamic duo.
Statistically, Tres Tinkle is the strongest candidate in the conference and the Oregon State star can make a closing argument for the award Wednesday night when the Huskies host the Beavers at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Tinkle is the only Pac-12 player ranked among the league’s top 10 in points (20.1, 2nd), rebounds (8.0, 5th), steals (44, 5th) and assists (109, 10th).
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And yet, it would be a surprise if anyone other than Nowell or Thybulle won the coveted player of the year award considering Washington (23-6, 14-2 Pac-12) has dominated the Pac-12 and clinched the outright regular-season conference championship last week.
Oregon State (17-11, 9-7) is five games behind UW and third in the standings.
As good as Tinkle has been, the Pac-12 player of the year award has often been an honor that recognizes the most impactful player on the conference’s best team.
To that end, Nowell and Thybulle have emerged as the front-runners in what was a crowded field months ago.
Oregon freshman center Bol Bol, a preseason All-American candidate, exited the MVP race after suffering a season-ending foot injury in December that limited him to just nine games.
Stanford forward KZ Okpala, UCLA forward Kris Wilkes and USC guard Kevin Porter Jr. are considered the Pac-12’s top pro prospects, but they never mounted a charge in the player of the year derby.
USC forwards Nick Rakocevic and Bennie Boatwright drew MVP consideration, but their spiraling bids coincided with a late-season swoon for the Trojans, who have lost six of their past nine games.
Arizona State, which clinched the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, is led by a trio of stars (Luguentz Dort, Remy Martin and Zylan Cheatham) who shared time in the spotlight and failed to distinguish themselves from the pack.
At midseason, Nowell appeared to be a lock for the player of the year award in part because he’s the only player with three Pac-12 weekly honors. The 6-foot-4 guard leads UW in points (16.2 per game), assists (3.1) and minutes (34.0). And he’s second in rebounds (5.5).
Nowell is the only player in the Pac-12 who is shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 44 percent on three-pointers and 75 percent at the free-throw line.
“Jaylen Nowell is the best player in the conference because he can score, rebound, he gets steals, he’s a top assist guy, a great three-point shooter,” said Dirk Facer at the Deseret News. “He’s the complete package. I think he’s the player of the year, but I think his teammate is the best defensive player of the year. It’s a 1-2 punch, but I would go with Nowell.”
However, in the past several weeks Thybulle may have stolen the MVP award from his teammate while becoming a nationally-recognized defensive phenom. The 6-5 senior guard, who averages 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds, has 101 steals and needs 10 to break the Pac-12 single-season record of 110 set by former California star Jason Kidd in 1992-93.
The award vote is Sunday, after the regular season but before the Pac-12 Tournament.
Thybulle, who ranks second in the Pac-12 with 67 blocks, is the only Division I player since 1992-93 to record at least 100 steals and 60 blocks in the same season, according to SportsReference.com.
“The things that Thybulle contributes, some of them don’t even show up in the stats,” Pac-12 Networks analyst Corey Williams said. “The intensity at which he plays, the high level at which he plays, the amount of steals and the way he can impact a game without the ball being in his hands — there’s no other player in the conference that does that.
“If you get all the coaches in a room and you ask them, which guy do you want on your team? He’s going to be on first on that list. … Matisse Thybulle shows up every weekend for the best team in the conference.”
Thybulle, who is a lock to win a second straight Pac-12 defensive player of the year award, could join former California star Jorge Gutiérrez as the only player to win the league’s player of the year and defensive player of year honors.
“We’ve never had it, but if there was ever a year for co-MVPs this would be the year,” Pac-12 Networks analyst Casey Jacobsen said. “The best offensive player and the best defensive player for one team splitting the top award feels right to me.”
We asked eight journalists who cover Pac-12 men’s basketball who they think is the league’s player of the year and each one picked a Husky.
Don MacLean, Pac-12 Networks: “It’s Thybulle. I’ve never heard coaches talk about a player like they do Matisse Thybulle. I’ve never heard them say, ‘We’re scared to death of this guy. We have to know where he is. We’re playing on one side of the court opposite of Thybulle because he’s so disruptive.’ Jaylen has had a great year and he’s improved in a lot of different ways, but to me who has the biggest impact on Washington winning is Matisse Thybulle. His defensive presence is overwhelming good and overwhelmingly sticks out. If you’re talking about why Washington won the regular-season conference (title) easily, the biggest reason is Matisse Thybulle.”
Theo Lawson, Spokesman-Review: “I believe it’s Matisse Thybulle. He’s been so good defensively for the best defensive team in the conference. You never really look at a defensive guy for the MVP. You look at the top scorer/rebounder. The reason why Washington has been so successful this year is because of its defense and he’s easily the best defensive player on that team. … I think it’s a wide-open year for the MVP because you haven’t had one player show all season that he’s worth it, but I think you have to pick from a team that’s only lost two games in such a bizarre year for the conference.”
Casey Jacobsen, Pac-12 Networks: “It’s Jaylen Nowell because it’s harder to find a go-to offensive player who can be as efficient as he is and to be steady. Every time I watch him, I trust him to take a good shot and I trust him to make it, which is pretty rare. I and others tend to give more benefit of the doubt to offensive players and their impact on a game because it is harder to find. Ask any college coach what is the hardest thing to recruit and it’s guys who can score the ball efficiently. … It’s a tight race, but in my mind it’s Jaylen Nowell.”
Thuc Nhi Nguyen, Orange County Register: “It’s tough because that team has a lot of really good players that when you add them up they equal something better than their parts individually. It’s hard to choose, but I would pick Matisse Thybulle.”
Bruce Pascoe, Arizona Daily Star: “It looks like Thybulle is the guy on both sides of the court with the impact he’s had. Nowell is pretty amazing, too. It will be interesting to see if those guys split any votes and if they do, then maybe Tres Tinkle has a shot. But if I were voting, Thybulle would be my choice just because of the impact he had all the around.”
Pat Rooney, Daily Camera: “(Colorado coach) Tad Boyle had a good quote after that game in Seattle. He said Thybulle affects the game defensively without even having to score a point on a possession by possession basis. There’s other a guys in the league like Tinkle and Cheatam who can do a little bit of everything … but as far as a guy who really sets his team on another level it comes back to Thybulle.”
Michelle Gardner, Arizona Republic: “I love Tres Tinkle and I really like (Robert) Franks, but you can’t go with a guy from a team that’s next to last. Because Washington has been so good, you got to go with somebody on that team and it’s Thybulle.”
Mike Yam, Pac-12 Networks: “I spent the majority of the season thinking Jaylen Nowell and then there was a stretch there where Matisse was just unconscious defensively. It was scary. … And I was thinking Matisse is the guy and now I’ve started to go back to Jaylen. He’s their go-to guy in crunchtime and I think he’s willing to take some big shots like I think he did (last Sunday) at Stanford. That game has me swaying back his way. We need these last two games to figure it out. If one of those guys has a big Heisman type of moment, I think it might go to him.”