Like any marquee college program, the Bruins re-tool, not rebuild. Scout.com's #1 2008 recruiting class should do just fine in replacing departed players Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Luc Mbah a Moute. Joining Darren Collison, the conference's top point guard and senior Josh Shipp are five-star prospects Jrue Holiday and J'mison Morgan and McDonald's All-American Malcolm Lee.
On the national stage, UCLA may have its challenges as they heavily rely on first-year players and aside from Collision and Shipp there are no returning players who have proven themselves as impact contributors last season. Nonetheless, in a weaker Pac-10 they should have no problems capturing the conference crown. Anything short of that would be a shocker.
2. Arizona State (21-13, 9-9)
Call me a "homer" but many other college basketball pundits see the same things I do regarding the Sun Devils: easily the Pac-10's best squad in terms of returning talent, a pre-season All-American and the only Pac-10 first team selection returner in James Harden (pictured), and one of the best big men in the conference in Jeff Pendergraph.
Derek Glasser and Ty Abbott are one of the better Pac-10 backcourts going into this season, and players such Jerren Shipp, Jamelle McMillan, and Rihards Kuksiks have proven they can contribute on this level. True freshmen Johnny Coy and Taylor Rhode can ultimately be valuable help off the bench.
All in all, ASU has the offensive firepower and the defensive prowess to make this 2008-09 campaign one of the best in school's history.
3. Washington (16-17, 7-11)
Obviously, my dark horse pick in this pre-season poll. I just feel that after the last few seasons of underachieving, this extremely athletic group will finally put it all together and eventually find itself near the top of the Pac-10.
Jon Brockman (pictured) is one of the league's best returning players, and Quincy Pondexter is poised to turn the corner. Freshmen Elston Turner Jr. and Scott Suggs head a group of talented newcomers that along with the team's veterans should thankfully make the Husky nation forget about the miserable football season they're going through these days.
4. USC (21-12, 11-7)
Freshman DeMar Derozan (pictured) is counted to fill in the huge void left behind by NBA lottery pick O.J. Mayo and he can definitely come close to achieving that monumental feat. Taj Gibson is the Trojans' best returner, and Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett are proven veterans.
However, compared to three teams above them, their depth is very suspect, and USC will be hard pressed to successfully overcome any foul trouble or injuries by its starting five. Furthermore, this may be the year where the Trojans' collective low basketball IQ catches up with them. So I see USC taking a step back, but it's still a squad should finish the regular season in the upper half of the Pac-10.
5. Washington State (26-9, 11-7)
Is it the system or the players? The folks up in Pullman hope it's the former, because losing players such as Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Robbie Cowgill and returning just five letter winners is seldom a recipe for improvement or even sustained success.
Taylor Rochestie (pictured) and Aron Baynes are the key returners who will try and duplicate the accomplishment that the Cougars have enjoyed in recent years. Freshman Klay Thompson is a great addition to the program, but the rest of the recruiting class will need to overachieve in a major way for Wazzu to have any chance at a productive season.
The Cougars are a team that can frustrate opponents on both ends of the floor, and in a weak conference that can go a long ways to soften the drop from last season.
6. Arizona (19-15, 8-10)
Yes, I made this selection before Lute Olson retired, let alone before the recent departure of Jeff Withey, so I guess I'm stuck with it. But the more I look at it; it may not be that farfetched to predict the Wildcats finishing as high as this spot.
Arizona still has proven veterans such as Chase Budinger (pictured) and Jordan Hill. Nic Wise is serviceable point guard. Aside from that trio the cast of the remaining characters is unproven, but maybe good enough to help the Cats not totally go in the tank this season.
One would have to assume that the whole soap opera that has taken pace in Tucson from the time Olson took his leave of absence until his sudden retirement, will eventually take its toll on a squad who's had a very rocky off-season. Its preseason schedule is challenging as usual, and their overall talent is ill-equipped to deal with those obstacles. But with a less intimidating Pac-10 that may exceed their expectations, which right now rate as rock bottom.
7. California (17-16, 6-12)
Loosing Ryan Anderson to the NBA is as big of a loss as any Pac-10 team suffered from last season. On the other hand, hiring Mike Montgomery as the team's new head coach was a stroke of a genius, and the fact that its irritates their archrival across the bay is just icing on the cake.
Patrick Christopher (pictured) will have to carry the load, since he doesn't have much of a supporting cast around him. Incoming freshman D.J. Seeley will have to be an immediate impact player for the Golden Bears', so the team will have a chance at a decent season. 2008-09 is shaping up to be a rough campaign in Berkeley but as long as Montgomery is at the helm seasons such as this should be few and far in between.
8. Oregon (18-14, 9-9)
With the graduation of four-year players Malik Hairston, Marty Leunen and Bryce Taylor, the Ducks are definitely in a rebuilding mode. It will up to the 5-6 Tajuan Porter (pictured) to not only run the point but carry the team on his small shoulders. True freshman Mike Dunigan will be a quality addition to the front court, but overall Ernie Kent's team is short on talent, scary young and is destined to spend the season in the lower echelon of the conference.
9. Stanford (28-8, 13-5)
Sure, when discussing Stanford's prospects this season; everyone will first and foremost talk about twin brothers Brock and Robin Lopez leaving for the NBA. However, losing Taj Finger and Fred Washington cannot be overlooked, and replacing Head Coach Trent Johnson to boot are just other reasons why the Cardinal expect to struggle this season.
11-year Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins will count on Lawrence Hill (pictured) and Landry Fields, along with possibly true freshmen Jeremy Green to pour the concrete on what should be a good foundation in years to come.
10. Oregon State (6-25, 0-18)
The only suspense surrounding Oregon State is whether the Beavers will avoid another historic 0-18 Pac-10 record, which they registered last year. Otherwise, you would be hard pressed to find any pundit that isn't pegging Oregon State to once again bring up the rear of the Pac-10.
Ironically, this is a Beavers team which returns a lot of experienced players, but it still doesn't compensate for the lack of talent. Having leading scorer Marcel Jones exhausting his eligibility doesn't help matters to say the least.
Lathen Wallace and Josh Tarver (pictured) will be the cornerstones of a Beavers squad who will embark on a long journey towards respectability. First-year head coach Craig Robinson, should probably borrow his brother in law's, Barack Obama, slogan "Yes we can" in efforts to keep the morale high in Corvallis.