2010-11 Pac-10 Preview

The final season of the Pac-10 before opening up the party to Colorado and Utah will be an intriguing one since there is no team that stands clearly above the rest. Pundits around the nation have had a field day with the Pac-10's disappointing non-conference performance, yet it doesn't change the fact that this premier conference has six teams that could legitimately capture the league's crown.

From Ken Bone speeding things up in Pullman to Sean Miller bringing Arizona back into the spotlight to Lorenzo Romar and Herb Sendek continually pumping out quality teams despite key players moving on to the battle of L.A .where Ben Howland and Kevin O'Neill have great teams but are still figuring out how to make those teams consistently great, it should be interesting to see how the conference picture develops in the next two plus months.

Projected Order of Finish (current record in parenthesis)

1) Washington State - (10-2)

- Perhaps the biggest surprise of the non-conference slate was Wazzu's dominant play. With a tough schedule, the Cougars only two losses came to Kansas State and Butler while knocking down Gonzaga and Baylor in impressive fashion. With one of the country's best scorers leading the way in Klay Thompson (22.3 PPG) and JUCO transfer, Faisal Aden (16.3 PPG), these are no longer your Tony Bennett Cougars. WSU is putting up 78 PPG and shooting 40% from three-point land as a team.

2) Arizona – (11-2)

- In an unfortunate turn of events for Sun Devil fans, it just so happens that Sean Miller has a pretty good team down south. Derrick Williams (19.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG) continues to be a premier post player in a center-challenged league and has plenty of great athletes surrounding him on the floor. The Wildcats are extraordinarily balanced throughout with eight players averaging at least 5.5 PPG. While Williams is indispensable, the production of MoMo Jones at point guard will be vital to their success.

3) Washington – (8-3)

- Another well balanced team under Lorenzo Romar's helm, the Huskies are led by a point guard with unlimited range in Isaiah Thomas, a big-man who is finally coming into his own in Matthew Bryan-Amaning, and a defensive menace who can also score on the offensive end in Justin Holiday. Add to that list another solid backup point guard in Abdul Gaddy who is slowly but surely living up to his accolades and the most annoying player alive in Venoy Overton who seemingly has been in Seattle for a decade – this team will surely be in the mix for a conference title and an NCAA Tournament berth come March.

4) Arizona State – (7-4)

- A little biased? Sure. But hear me out. In Herb Sendek's first four years in Tempe, he has never once been ill-prepared for a conference tilt. This team was picked to finish seventh a season ago and finished second. This team is loaded with newcomers and returning players that have been thrust into leadership roles. While the team won just seven games in the non-conference schedule, they had some great learning experiences.

Opening at The Pit in New Mexico was a fair loss as was getting beat in Waco against a Baylor team that will linger in the top ten all season long. The other two losses, a loss to Richmond at home looks bad to the naked eye but the Spiders are one the Atlantic-10's best teams and are hardly a mid-major. The worst loss was to St. John's in the Great Alaska Shootout where a full-court press barrage sunk the Sun Devils in the second half and sent them home with the Silver Medal.

The point is, this team has played very tough road games and had a trial by fire in the first eleven games. The schedule now gets a bit more routine just in time for the team to start clicking on all cylinders.

5) UCLA – (8-4)

- It is beyond comprehension why this team continues to teeter between hot and cold. Ben Howland is a tremendous coach and he has recruited incredibly well but still, the Bruins can't seem to put it all together. Tough losses to Villanova and Kansas are completely understandable but losses to Montana and Virginia Commonwealth? That's not what eth Westwood faithful have been accustomed to. All is not lost though as the Bruins did beat a supremely talented BYU squad and the loss to Kansas in Lawrence was marred by a terrible call in the game's waning moments that essentially handed the game to the Jayhawks. With Tyler Honeycutt emerging as a star in his sophomore campaign to go along with Reeves Nelson and Malcolm Lee – this team could thrive if everything comes together for this squad.

6) USC – (8-5)

- Beating Texas and Tennessee is no small feat. In fact, few very teams in the country have two better non-conference wins. However, losing to Rider, TCU, Bradley, and Nebraska negates those results. On paper, this team has all the right ingredients: a heady point guard in Jio Fontan, solid guards in Maurice Jones and Donte Smith, and the best post tandem in the conference in Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stephenson. When this team plays well, they undoubtedly look like a team who could make a run in the NCAA Tournament but when they struggle, they look like a team that will finish below .500 in a down Pac-10. Therefore, much like its archrival you winder which team will show up more often than not in league play.

7) Stanford – (6-4)

- Another team with some bad losses in the early going, Stanford lost to Murray State and Tulsa and got embarrassed by Butler on national television to start off the holiday season. Despite it all, Jeremy Green is still one the best in the Pac-10 and now that Josh Owens has returned to basketball he has done well down low for the Cardinal. Freshman Dwight Powell is developing nicely and could be a force to be reckoned with as the season progresses. This team lacks depth and toughness and both of those weaknesses will be exposed even more so in conference play.

8) Cal – (6-5)

- Mike Montgomery is one of the best coaches in the nation and probably the most underrated at that. However, even trying to guide this team to success may be too tough for him. The Bears lost 83% of their offense and are relying on a defensive whiz and an oft-injured post player to score the bulk of their points. Jorge Gutierrez is a good player and did a great job complementing Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher a season ago but this is his show and he will need to pick up his game several notches if he wants his squad to finish in the upper echelon of the conference. Harper Kamp, a Mesa, Ariz. native, returns after a season lost due to injury and will look to be a solid presence down low. Other players to keep an eye on are Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Gary Franklin.

9) Oregon – (7-5)

- A true rebuilding project with a great coach to spearhead it; Dana Altman is already seeing strides of progress from his young Ducks as they had a non-conference slate that included losses to powerhouses like Duke and Missouri and doormats like San Jose State and Idaho. It definitely will be a long season in Eugene but they will occasionally surprise some teams with Joevan Catron and E.J. Singler patrolling the paint and a bevy of good albeit young shooters surrounding them on the wings.

10) Oregon State – (5-6)

- Quite simply, this team is not a Pac-10 quality team. Craig Robinson made great strides in his first year and has recruited well but this team is just not quite there. Losses to Seattle, Texas Southern, Utah Valley State, and Montana were tough to swallow in Corvallis. It's a bit surprising considering that this is a fairly talented group. While it lacks greatly in depth and physicality, the team has great guards with Jared Cunningham, Calvin Haynes and Roberto Nelson. This team will surely steal a few wins this season but not enough to consider the 2010-11 campaign anything less than a disappointment.

Conference honors projections

Coach of the Year: Ken Bone, Washington State

Player of the Year: Derrick Williams, Arizona

Defensive Player of the Year: Justin Holiday, Washington

Breakout Player of the Year: Trent Lockett, Arizona State

Newcomer of the Year: Jio Fontan, USC

Freshman of the Year: Keala King, Arizona State

All Pac-10 Team

G – Isaiah Thomas, Washington

G – Ty Abbott, Arizona State

G – Klay Thompson, Washington State

F – Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA

F – Derrick Williams, Arizona

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