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Rooney: If ASU’s Remy Martin is All-American, CU Buffs’ McKinley Wright IV is too

Guard rivalry a highlight of Pac-12 season

Colorado’s McKinley Wright returns to Boulder for his senior season looking for a NCAA tourney bid.

It wasn’t news that sent shockwaves throughout college basketball. But it was a curious turn of events that went down last week as the Pac-12 Conference was launching its preseason basketball polls and all-conference teams.

Arizona State guard Remy Martin received preseason AP All-America honors. Colorado guard McKinley Wright IV did not.

The shocking part isn’t that Martin is generating that sort of buzz. He is a prolific, often electric scorer, and a standout incoming freshman class has the hype brewing in Tempe. The Martin-versus-Wright saga is fantastic barstool debate fodder, and their personal showdowns have been a highlight of Pac-12 play the past three seasons.

But Martin was a first team preseason All-American selection, albeit in a tie with Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert for the final spot. Wright, meanwhile, didn’t generate a single vote from the AP panel. And there isn’t a single shred of statistical data to justify that chasm.

Let’s start with the career numbers, as each of the senior guards have enjoyed careers that have mirrored one another. Going into their senior seasons, Martin has averaged 13.8 points in 95 games. Wright, 13.8 points in 99 games.

Wright has a slight edge in career field goal percentage (.463 to .427) and 3-point percentage (.337 to .332). Wright has more substantial leads in career rebounding average (5.1 to 3.1) and assist average (5.1 to 4.0). Martin does have an edge in career assist-to-turnover ratio (1.85 to 1.68), though Martin’s rate dropped precipitously last season to 1.32 as he focused more on scoring. Wright also has a narrow lead in career free throw percentage in a similar number of attempts (.789 in 361 attempts for Wright; .756 in 377 attempts for Martin).

Wright has generated more respect from league coaches, as well. Although Martin has nabbed a few more steals in his career than Wright (123 to 106), CU’s guard has garnered consecutive all-defensive team consideration in the Pac-12, earning honorable mention in 2019 and first-team honors last year. Players need just three votes to earn defensive honorable mention. Martin has never received those three votes. Wright is coming off consecutive first team All-Pac-12 honors. Martin was a second team selection in 2019 and first team last year.

Granted, Martin’s jump to a 19.1 points per game scoring average last year may have been an easy target for the eyes of the AP voters. Martin has made visible improvements in three seasons, while Wright essentially has played at the same consistently high level since he arrived on campus. Yet other than the scoring average, Wright, who averaged a career-best 14.8 points per game last year, still outplayed Martin in every other meaningful category in 2019-20.

Martin played one fewer game than Wright last season but hoisted 108 more shots. Wright shot .448 overall, Martin .432. They basically were the same from the 3-point arc (.336 for Wright, .335 for Martin), but Wright outpaced Martin in rebounding average (5.7 to 3.1), assists (5.0 to 4.1), assist-to-turnover rate (1.67 to 1.32) and free throw percentage (.792 to .772, though Martin got to the line 38 more times).

Oh, and head-to-head? Wright and the Buffs have won five of the seven matchups against Martin and ASU, including a sweep last year that featured the only road win by either team during that span.

Not wanting to rankle an opponent he respects, CU head coach Tad Boyle declined to take up the debate beyond pointing out what he believes is the obvious.

“All I’ll say is I wouldn’t trade McKinley Wright for any other guard in the country,” Boyle said. “I said that when he was a freshman. I’m saying it now when he’s a senior. That’s just how I feel.”

Maybe Martin and Kispert simply were the token West Coast players for voters to focus on. The only players in the “others receiving votes” category of the preseason All-America poll west of the Mississippi River were Marcus Zegarowski of Creighton and Marcus Garret of Kansas. Definitely not programs representative of the West. The gap between Martin being preseason first team All-America and Wright not fetching a single vote is impossible for any voter to defend.

And this certainly isn’t to pick on Martin. An individual, four-year conference rivalry like the one still being waged between Wright and Martin, engaging players who play the same position with similar skills, has become a college basketball rarity. It should be one for Pac-12 basketball fans to savor, with the teams scheduled to meet just once during the regular season at CU in early February (though they could meet again in the Pac-12 tournament).

While Wright has been overlooked individually, the Buffs perhaps were overlooked within the league as well, finishing seventh in the preseason media poll released last week. CU often has enjoyed its best seasons under Boyle after getting overlooked early.

So while Martin and ASU are getting the attention, Wright is winning the statistical battle and netting the wins. If that continues in 2020-21, the Buffs likely will land in the NCAA Tournament. Chances are, that will be the type of attention Wright and his teammates prefer anyway.