2007 Pac-10 Preview

The Pac-10 is normally one of the nation's strongest basketball conferences and this season will be no different. The top three squads have legitimate chances at cutting down the nets in Atlanta come April and many teams in the conference have the capability of participating in post-season play. Here's a how I see the league shaping up in the 2006-07 season, in the projected order of finish.

UCLA

The nation's top ranked team and last season's national champion runner-up is geared for another run to at the title this season. With junior guards Josh Shipp and Arron Afflalo leading the way, and loaded with talent and depth, the Bruins should be able to fight off challengers Arizona and Washington and win the Pac-10 this season.

Why they will win the Pac-10

The Bruins are stacked with talent, experience, and a deep bench to go with good speed, good shooting, and good rebounding. Although losing PG Jordan Farmar to the NBA, sophomore Darren Collison has stepped in nicely and the Bruins haven't lost a step.

Why they won't win the Pac-10

It's hard to find any glaring weaknesses in this year's Bruins squad but one thing that could derail their quest for the title would be injuries. Shipp missed almost all of last season to a nagging hip injury and starting center Lorenzo Mata is coming off knee surgery. Although both players have started the season strong and healthy, if they go down, so could the Bruins' title aspirations.

Arizona

Lute Olson has all the pieces in place for a title run this year and how far they go rests on the shoulders of point guard Mustafa Shakur. The senior was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school and has run the show in Tucson for all his four years on campus. Yet it is no secret that Shakur has not fully lived up to the hype. As long as he runs the offense and distributes the ball instead of trying to create shots, the Wildcats will have success. Arizona has a very young team but a very talented one, Sophomore SF Marcus Williams and Freshman F Chase Budinger will spearhead an explosive attack.

Why they will win the Pac-10

If Shakur puts it all together, there may be no stopping the Wildcats. Williams and Budinger are superstars that will light up the scoreboard and Senior C Ivan Radenovic will be an adequate big man thanks to his soft touch on the perimeter and tenacity on the boards.

Why they won't win the Pac-10

If Shakur takes more than 10 shots a game, Arizona could find themselves in a hole and if C Kirk Walters cannot recover from his concussion and illness, the Wildcats will lack depth down low and in the Pac-10, that could be trouble. Furthermore, their bench will have to prove that they can successfully spell the starters game in and game out.

Washington

Losing the Pac-10 Player of the year and consensus All-American can destroy any team but not the Huskies. The loss of Brandon Roy hurts, but the insertion of freshman phenom C Spencer Hawes helps ease the pain. Hawes, along with sharpshooter Ryan Appleby and sophomores Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon should make the Huskies a contender for the national title.

Why they will win the Pac-10

If Hawes can live up to the hype and stay healthy and Brockman and Dentmon continue to improve, the Huskies can make a run for the conference title if they upset heavyweights UCLA and Arizona and protect their home court.

Why they won't win the Pac-10

Like any young team, they will have their on-nights and their off-nights. But if they have too many off-nights, Washington will lose focus and have trouble putting away talented teams.

Oregon

Before the season began, Ducks' head coach Ernie Kent was on the hot seat. Two of the best players in the 2007 recruiting class hail from Oregon and neither of them will be a Duck next year and there were grumblings that Kent better win now if he wants to keep his job - and that is exactly what he has done. The Ducks have gone undefeated in their non-conference schedule and look to be a force to be reckoned with in league play.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

Led by seniors Malik Hairston and Aaron Brooks, the Ducks are one of the most experienced teams in the Pac-10 and surely have the capability to surprise teams. Another reason for excitement is diminutive freshman Tajuan Porter. Porter leads the Ducks in scoring so far and if he can keep up his torrid pace, Oregon will have yet another scoring option.

Why they won't have a winning Pac-10 record

Oregon has underachieved the last few years. They have had the talent to win but they seem to fall short more often than not. Although they have started hot this year, they for the most part have not played the toughest competition and the Pac-10 season could prove to be too sharp of an upgrade in the quality of their opponents.

USC

The Trojans have reason to look forward to this season. They recently received a commitment from the top high school player in the country, O.J. Mayo, and they opened a new arena on campus. USC has plenty of talent, especially with the dynamic duo of junior guards Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt. With all the normal hoopla surrounding the Trojans' football team, the basketball squad has a chance to make a splash and get fans to take notice of the big things happening with head coach Tim Floyd.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

If Young and Pruitt can catch fire and if senior C Abdoulaye N'Diaye can stay out of foul trouble in the post, the Trojans can beat anyone but that's a big IF. USC has a lot of speed on their roster and they are prepared to run up and down the floor all season long to try to wear teams out.

Why they won't have a winning Pac-10 record

Pruitt has been ruled academically ineligible more than once and if he can't stay focused, then Young will have to carry the entire team and that may ultimately be unfeasible. USC doesn't have a lot of size and they don't shoot the ball terribly well. Thus, if they struggle early in a game, it's likely to turn out and be a long evening.

Arizona State



College basketball is looking to boom in Tempe as Herb Sendek takes over for the struggling Sun Devils. Although the loss of the team's top two leading scorers from a year ago have taken their toll, the Devils are showing some signs of improvement. Freshman Christian Polk has shown that he has the tools to succeed right out of the gates. Sophomore F Jeff Pendergraph and senior F Serge Angounou have been strong down low so far, and junior PG Antwi Atuahene may be the most improved player n the team from last season.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

In Herb Sendek's offense, the 3-point shot is essential for success. If the Sun Devils can knock down 3's with consistency, they can pull off some upsets. Pendergraph and Angounou will have to consistently play solid down low on both ends of the court.

Why they won't have a winning Pac-10 record

Three freshmen get major playing time for ASU, there are only three seniors on the squad with only one of them, Angounou, being an impact player. The Sun Devils are young and inexperienced and losses to Northern Arizona and Portland St. exposed those virtues. Their bench play has been spotty, and that will force the starters to log in heavy minutes every game. Sendek definitely has the Devils on the right track but it will take some time for his efforts to come to fruition.

Stanford

Life on the farm has gotten tough for Coach Trent Johnson and his Cardinal squad. With a young and inconsistent team, Stanford will have a trying season. Led by senior G Fred Washington and the freshman twin towers Brook and Robin Lopez, Stanford will have enough talent to get by but the experience that they lack will hurt them in the long haul.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

Stanford has always done more with their talent than anyone else. Although they don't look strong on paper, this is not a team that anyone will look past. Lawrence Hill, Polk's teammate from Deer Valley high school in Glendale, is a sharp shooter from behind the arc, as is Anthony Goods. If those two can catch fire on a consistent basis, they can certainly end in the upper echelon of the Pac-10.

Why they won't have a winning Pac-10 record

Losing PG Chris Hernandez hurts because he was the heart and soul of the team last year and no one on the team can replace his presence on and off the court. Much like ASU, it's a team that will probably live and die by the three-point shot and not receive much help from their reserves.

Cal

The loss of Mr. Double-Double, Leon Powe to the NBA will be nearly impossible for the Bears to replace and that task got even more impossible when junior C DeVon Hardin went down with an injury and will miss 2-3 months. Senior PG Ayinde Ubaka will have to take the team and lead them as much as he can and try to beat teams with good defense and consistent shooting.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

Cal has an experienced team and promising freshmen to boot such as Ryan Anderson. There will be no easy victories for the Bears but if they can control the game behind Ubaka, and have Anderson continue his sensational freshman campaign, they will steal some games from more talented opponents.

Why they won't have a winning Pac-10 record

Anderson may not be ready to grind with the best of the Pac-10 quite yet. Their lack of size and over-dependency on Ubaka, as well as several unproved players on the roster, will prove to be too much to bear (no pun intended) in the long run.

Washington State

New head coach Tony Bennett made a nice first impression by taking down in-state rival Gonzaga. However, the rest of the season won't be quite as nice for the Cougars as they will try to learn a more up-tempo style this year. Juniors Robbie Cowgill and Derrick Low will be the go-to-guys and look for junior Kyle Weaver to burst onto the scene.

Why they won't have a winning Pac-10 record

Coach Bennett, in a sharp departure from his father Dick Bennett who coached the Cougars last year, has implemented his fast-paced offense that has been working wonders so far. The only slow-down memories for the elder Bennett have been in WSU's ability to hold down opponents on defense. On offense, the Cougars have been superb from three-point land. If they can keep up their fine play on both ends of the floor, they may not be a surprise anymore and prove that their 11-1 non-conference record is anything but an aberration.

Why they won't win

Beating Gonzaga put Wazzu back in the spotlight and they have even flirted with the Top 25 in the early goings but this just makes the Pac-10 more aware that they can't look past them anymore. Cowgill and Low are good but they just aren't enough to win a lot of games in the conference. They're certainly not an athletic team, which usually doesn't bode well in a conference such as the Pac-10.

Oregon State

Although the Oregon State football team came out of the cellar to shock USC and the rest of the Pac-10 to finish third, don't expect the same thing to happen for the Beavers on the hardwood. While OSU possesses experience, they don't possess a whole lot of talent. Aside from Croatian junior F Sasa Cuic, junior forward Marcel Jones and senior C Kyle Jeffers, the Beavers are limited.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

The aforementioned trio will be a formidable match-up for any team and could pose problems for smaller teams in the conference. Corvallis is known as one of the tougher places to win in the Pac-10.

Why they won't have a winning Pac-10 record

Head coach Jay John has done an admirable job with Oregon State, he has recruited well and has picked up some international guys to help the team but OSU is a very raw ball club that will take some time to gel. They're another team that will have to overwork their starters in order to find success this season.

Awards

Player of the Year
Josh Shipp, G, UCLA


Newcomer of the Year
Chase Budinger, F, Arizona

Coach of the Year
Ernie Kent, Oregon

Teams on the Rise
Arizona State
USC

Teams on the Decline
Cal
Stanford

All-Pac-10
Ayinde Ubaka, G, Cal
Josh Shipp, G, UCLA
Marcus Williams, F, Arizona
Jon Brockman, F, Washington
Jeff Pendergraph, C, Arizona State

All-Pac-10 Freshman
Tajuan Porter, G, Oregon
Christian Polk, G, Arizona State
Chase Budinger, F, Arizona
Ryan Anderson, F, Cal
Spencer Hawes, C, Washington

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