Yep, another preview of another conference, and if you don't like it you can go straight to hell.
Losing Westbrook, Love, and Mbah a Moute would cripple most teams, or at least get them to slow down, but UCLA just reloads with the #1 recruiting class in the nation and takes aim at a fourth consecutive Final Four. Darren Collison and Josh Shipp are back, so the back court is solid. If that's not enough, they'll add Jrue Holliday (#2 Rivals 150), Jerime Anderson (#37), and Malcolm Lee (#47) to give them one of the best groups of guards in the country. There are a few questions in the front court, where they have depth in James Keefe, Michael Roll, and Alfred Aboya, but it remains to be seen if any of them have star power. The most likely breakout player in the front court is yet another freshman, either center J'Mison Morgan (#25) or forward Drew Gordon (#45). Even if none of those guys are a major talent, this team is loaded.
OJ Mayo is gone to the
Yes, Washington. The Huskies were a very talented team last year (wins over UCLA and Arizona) but just couldn't quite seem to put forth the consistent effort needed to grab an NCAA berth. With just three point floppy haired jesus Ryan Appleby gone from last season, they're in a great position this year. Jon Brockman is back to own the paint, and guards Quincy Pondexter and Justin Dentmon are top talents just waiting to break out (of course, they've been waiting for two years). One of their biggest weaknesses was point guard play, but incoming freshman Isaiah Thomas (not that one) is a top 100 recruit and should help.
4. Arizona State
It feels weird to put the Sun Devils this high on the list, but they're here for a reason, mainly James Harden deciding to return for his sophomore season. Harden can score from outside or in, and shoots a very high percentage for a guard. One of the best players in the conference. Nearly the entire team is back from last year's bubble reject, highlighted by center Jeff Pendergraph and guard Ty Abbott. If Jerren Shipp can improve to near the level of his brothers, they'll be that much more dangerous.
First Brandon Jennings heads to Europe, then Lute Olson retires followed by three high level recruits for 2009 dropping out their commitments. It's been a tough offseason for the Wildcats, but they still have enough this season to be in the NCAA conversation, led by Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. Budinger is an elite scorer, but is a little soft, and Hill is an absolute beast in the paint. The keys this season will be the play of point guard Nic Wise, without Jerryd Bayless to help out, as well as freshman center Jeff Withey (#36 Rivals), the only real big man option beyond Hill.
6. Washington State
I'm only putting them this high because their style of play is maddeningly annoying and will certainly get them a handful of wins against teams that get frustrated, but the Cougars are in a bit of trouble this season after losing Robbie Cowgill, Derrick Low, and Kyle Weaver. Aron Baynes is big and almost as fat as that dude from Santa Clara, but he's effective. Taylor Rochestie is back as well, and will be asked to score more with all that firepower gone from last year. The recruiting class is deep, if not overly talented, with Mychal Thompson's son Clay the only real standout (#51).
How do you replace Ryan Anderson and Devon Hardin? You don't, you mostly just cry. Second leading scorer Patrick Christopher is back, but it will be interesting to see how he does being the #1 guy instead of being back in the back. Point guard Jerome Randle is also back, but his assist/turnover ratio of 1.2 shows he needs a lot of polish. The Golden Bears really need Duke transfer Jamal Boykin to live up to his potential. Freshman guard DJ Seeley (#58) is a scorer.
The Lopez twins both bolted, even though if he stayed this would have absolutely become Robin's team, and that's pretty much all the Cardinal talent. Guards Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson are adequate, but that's all they are. Forward Lawrence Hill is probably their best player, but his numbers dropped massively from his sophomore to junior year. He'll need to recapture his form of two years ago for Stanford to be at all relevant.
Major talent leaving, with Malik Hairston, Maarty Leunen, and Bryce Taylor all gone. A very solid recruiting class, highlighted by big man Michael Dunigan and wing Matthew Humphrey gives hope, but the scoring load will fall to little man Tajuan Porter. If you've seen him play, he's only 5-6 but makes up for it by chucking the ball from three every single time he touches it. Without those other scorers and their leadership, expect him to lead the nation in three point attempts and ill advised shots, and probably turnovers too (1.0 A/TO last year) making Scottie Reynolds look under control. Fat Gopher reject Josh Crittle is a freshman here too.
10. Oregon State
Isn't it about time to transfer Oregon State to the Big West or the the WCC or something? You could bring in Gonzaga, except they don't play football so that doesn't work. What about BYU or Boise State? Not coastal enough? I don't know then, but something needs to be done. The Beavers haven't been relevant since Corey Benjamin was there, and I'm not even sure they were relevant then, other than in the McDonald's All-American Dunk Contest, which Benjamin even lost to Lester Earl. This year's team? Um, well, they have two starters with the last name Tarver, Seth and Josh, so let's pretend they're Miles Tarver's brothers. Recruiting class? Ranked dead last in the Pac 10.