Last year was nearly a disaster for the Pac-10, where getting even two teams NCAA bids was looking like it might not happen even late in the year, but this year things should be a little better. Washington and Arizona should be among the elite teams in the nation, and a number of other teams should be improved. Of course, that's basically the scouting report from last year, just replace Arizona with Cal, and that was a struggle, so who knows. These guys play their games so late that nobody is watching anyway. Except degenerate gamblers. Hi.
1. Washington Huskies. One thing is for certain, the Huskies play an exciting brand of basketball. I remember being in Chicago for their game against New Mexico, and just being mesmerized by how fast the pace of the game was. Me, Bogart, and Snacks had all bet the over, so each time little tiny Isaiah Thomas got the ball, sprinted down court past all the Lobos and made a layup we cheered and fell in love with him a little bit more. The game ended up being a blowout, so the pace slackened and that over never cashed, but the moral of the story is that Washington is awesome. Quincy Pondexter is gone, but Justin Holiday should step in fine, and their three guard lineup of Thomas, Venoy Overton, and Abdul Gaddy are as good as it gets. Rather than fighting for a bid like last year, the Huskies should have theirs locked up by January.
2. Arizona Wildcats. Arizona's streak of 25 straight NCAA Tournament bids was snapped last season, but they should be back again after losing only the disappointing Nic Wise, who never made the leap they were looking for last season. Derrick Williams was terrific in his freshman season, averaging 16 pts and 7 boards per game while shooting 57% and looking straight dominant at times, with 23 points or more five times last season. Williams is surrounded by plenty of other talent, but replacing Wise, who might not have been great but was certainly good, at the point is going to be the real key to the season. Lamont Jones came in last season with a good pedigree but struggled at times. If he hasn't improved this prediction is going to look awfully silly. Might end up being the first prediction I've ever whiffed on - ever.
3. UCLA Bruins. Despite what seems to be near constant defections, whether to the NBA or to other programs, over the last few years, UCLA does seem to be on the way back. Looking at just the stats of the returnees you wouldn't be impressed, but these guys have talent. Tyler Honeycutt (last year's Rivals #28 overall) is well on his way to becoming a do everything type stud, Malcolm Lee really started to come into his own last year (12 pts, 3 ast per game), and nerdy Reeves Nelson (11pts, 6 rebs as a frosh) is already showing an impressive array of low-post moves. Add to that group Rivals #18 recruiting class and they're looking to be in good shape, assuming people stop transferring. Plus in the good news department, their top recruit, center Josh Smith (#23 overall) who weighed in at 305 lbs. has reportedly lost a bunch of weight and is in (relatively) great shape. Plus, don't you just feel better when UCLA is good? It's just icky otherwise.
4. Washington State Cougars. They're getting an awful lot of press due to Klay Thompson, which makes sense because he's probably the only player in the league who might be better than Derrick Williams from Zona. His low shooting percentage (41%) and high turnovers (3.4 TO to 2.3 assists) are the only blemishes on his record, but those numbers should improve with better/improved teammates in Pullman this year. The real question is will he have better teammates, because outside of point guard Reggie Moore everybody is a questions mark. In a normal year in a normal conference, one great player, one good player, and a bunch of questions wouldn't make you the fourth best team, but the Pac-10 is down once again, so Wazzou should be in play for an NCAA berth.
5. USC Trojans. They definitely have a great inside tandem, maybe the best in the conference, with Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson in the paint. Vucevic was called "the best true center in the conference" in an article I saw, and his numbers bear that out as he averaged nearly a triple double last year (10.7 pts/9.4 rebs per) and blocked more than one shot per game, while Stepheson was one of the highest rated recruits in the country coming out of high school and on his way to North Carolina in 2006. He hasn't quite put it all together yet, but he's got one last chance. This team will be especially interesting when Jio Fontan, an outstanding point guard who transferred from Fordham and will be eligible mid-season, joins the team to balance out the inside strength with a perimeter threat.
6. Stanford Cardinal. Losing Landry Jones, who led the conference in scoring and was second in rebounding last year, is definitely a bit of a buzzkill, but at least they have Jeremy Green back to soften the blow (16.6 ppg) as well as three other starters, and they're going to need every bit of that experience because everybody else on the roster is either a walk-on, a benchwarmer, or a freshman. There is certainly some talent mixed up with these freshman - PF Dwight Powell is Rivals #25 overall recruit, while SG Anthony Brown is #65 - so there's certainly some upside here. If the youngsters are ready to play the Cardinal could move up a few spots. Plus this conference sucks, so anybody with a pulse could move up a few spots.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils. They certainly like to shoot the three, leading the conference last year in attempts by over 100 over the second place team, and they also lost both their penetrating point guard and their only inside presence, and are left with just five scholarship players from last year back this year, two of whom are dandies who only shoot threes. With your #1 PG and #1 post player gone, how open are those looks going to be? Now, some of the newcomers have talent and could step in - Keala King is the #8 PG in the country according to rivals and could step in at the point immediately - but there is still a distinct lack of big men that will limit how much ASU can accomplish. But at least they still have the hottest chicks in the land. Seriously, check out the internet sometime.
8. Oregon State Beavers. They looked to have a little momentum going into last year and were considered a bit of a sleeper in a weak Pac-10, but unfortunately couldn't capitalize, and now nobody cares again. That center with the weird name is gone, the Tarvers (no relation to Miles) are gone. Calvin Haynes is apparently a very good offensive player but I wouldn't know because I don't think I've watched an OSU game since the days of Corey Benjamin, partially because they're never on TV and partially because they're usually boring and/or bad. I have, however, giggled about the nickname Beavers recently. Because I'm 12.
9. California Golden Bears. I'm not sure any team, outside of Kentucky, lost as much from last year as the Bears, and this year is going to be rough. Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher might have been the two best guards in the conference last season, and they're both gone, as are third-leading scorer Theo Robertson and only viable inside presence (and fourth leading scorer) Jamal Boykin. But, as Denise Fleming (who is not a tampon) said in Can't Hardly Wait, "Don't look back, you should never look back", so instead let's talk about what the Bears have going for them this year. It's nothing.
10. Oregon Ducks. I'll say this about the Pac, it's easy to pick the last place team because the Ducks are an absolute disaster right now - like Iowa, but worse. After Ernie Kent was fired there was such a mass exodus of players that I can't even keep up, which is made extra difficult because I don't pay particular attention to Oregon basketball. Four of the players transferring were bench players with varying degrees of playing time, but Michael Dunigan - who just signed to play in Israel - would have been their top returning post player. The lack of depth will be exacerbated by de-commits by incoming freshman (I can't find a list anywhere, but I know there have been some) leaving the Ducks with just 9 scholarship players, most of which are pretty mediocre. New coach Dana Altman has already signed a very good class for 2011, but according to NCAA rules none of those players can play this year.