Pac-10 Basketball Preview

In 2008, the Pac-10 was one of the best conferences that college basketball world had ever seen. Yet, after seven first-round picks in the NBA Draft and six NCAA Tournament teams (and should have probably been seven) – the conference has lost a bit of the luster from a year ago but should still feature a riveting battle amongst its teams in 2009.

UCLA

The king of the conference still resides on its throne in Westwood. Ben Howland and his Bruins are the favorite to win the conference this season despite losing three major components from a Final Four run a season ago in Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute. Stepping into those shoes have been freshman phenom Jrue Holliday, sharp shooting Michael Roll, and a balance of James Keefe and Nikola Dragovic.

Why they will win the Pac-10

One of the best floor generals in all the land, Darren Collison returns for his final season and will have a lot of options to go to with Holliday and Roll stepping up, as well as Josh Shipp (pictured) returning for his final season. No team in the Pac-10 rivals the Bruins in terms of depth and experience in big games.

Why they won't win the Pac-10

Despite the return of Collison, the rest of the team is unfamiliar with being a go-to player at the college level. Holliday is an all-world talent and guys like Shipp, Keefe, and Roll can all play but they have to make a quick transition from role players to stars for another trip to the top.

Arizona State

The secret is out. Last season, the Sun Devils became just the third major conference school to go from losing 20 games to winning 20 contests in a single season. James Harden is one of the best players in the country and the supporting cast of Jeff Pendergraph (pictured), Rihards Kuksiks, and Ty Abbott is really developing nicely.

Why they will win the Pac-10

With Harden, you know what you are going to get. He is one of the smartest basketball players in the nation and Pendergraph has refined his game in so many ways that he is one of the soundest big men in the conference. If Kuksiks can remain a consistent scoring threat and Abbott can extend his game and start attacking the rim more – this team could be destined for big things.

Why they won't win the Pac-10

The Sun Devils sometimes get too trigger happy from beyond the arc and take the first shot they can find, which can ultimately hurt them. Rebounding has been a concern for most of non-conference play. A couple years ago, they frustrated teams by taking the air out of the ball and from time to time, they get a taste of their own medicine. If teams key in on just stopping Harden and taking their chances on everyone else – then the supporting cast better be ready to contribute.

Arizona

It's been a tumultuous year and a half in Tucson to say the least. The Lute Olson saga has bent but not broken the program but the real verdict still awaits. Russ Pennell has taken over a team with two stars in Chase Budinger (pictured) and Jordan Hill and has shown flashes of greatness with wins over Gonzaga and Kansas and displays of disaster with ugly losses to UAB and UNLV.

Why they will win the Pac-10

With Budinger and Hill on the floor, the Wildcats will always have a chance to win and with Nic Wise growing as a player, Arizona has the proverbial three-headed monster needed to succeed. If some of the younger players like Jamelle Horne continue to step up their game – they could threaten for conference crown.

Why they won't win the Pac-10

Depth and confusion. First and foremost, this team lacks the bench it used to pride itself on. Secondly, Pennell is an interim coach. Recruiting is in flux and the drama surrounding the program could eventually engulf the team itself if things start falling apart.

USC

With O.J. Mayo, Taj Gibson, and Davon Jefferson – the Trojans were one of the best teams in the country last season and made a strong run in the NCAA Tournament. This season has a chance to be similar with newcomer DeMar Derozan (pictured) replacing Mayo and Gibson becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Why they will win the Pac-10

DeRozan is a freak of nature and can change a game with his game-breaking skills. Gibson is a great big man with a good basketball IQ and the emotional leader, Daniel Hackett, returns with a bigger role than last season which could suit him well.

Why they won't win the Pac-10

The lack of depth and a legitimate outside threat could thwart the Trojans run for the Pac-10 title. Jefferson's departure really stung as he would have helped Gibson create the best interior combo in the conference.

Cal

While he is the new coach, Mike Montgomery is already quite familiar with the Pac-10 from his Stanford days and has a more talented squad than many believe. Patrick Christopher (pictured), Jerome Randle, and Theo Robertson provide a solid core and if Jamal Boykins can put his game together, it might help the Berkeley faithful forget about forward Ryan Anderson's departure to the NBA.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

This team plays well on both ends of the court and will be well coached under Monty. If Christopher can turn into a reliable scorer and they can get some production in the post – they will be one of the best offensive squads in the conference.

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

Anderson was the only real playmaker last year for the Bears and his absence will be felt in close ballgames all season long. They have been underachievers for a few years now and we'll see if Montgomery can reverse that trend.

Washington State

One of the most pleasant surprises of the last two seasons was the Washington State coming out party. With stifling defense and great shooters, the Cougars came out of nowhere to become a top flight program. However, gone from those two remarkable teams are Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Robbie Cowgill – three of the main pieces of the puzzle.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

Granted, they lost Low, Weaver, and Cowgill but Taylor Rochestie (pictured) is back and playing his best basketball and Klay Thompson is a superb freshman that could become a go-to-guy as the season develops. Daven Harmeling and Aron Baynes return to provide some toughness as well.

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

It's a lot to ask any team to replace three stars overnight. Low and Weaver were excellent on both ends of the floor. The team is going to still rely on their defense and shooting but neither aspect will be as good as they have been in the past two campaigns.

Stanford

Out is their head coach and 14 feet of Lopez twins. In is new coach, and former Duke assistant, Johnny Dawkins and a lot of question marks come with it. With the out of conference schedule complete, Stanford is one of only nine unbeaten teams in college basketball. However, the resume is hardly impressive. The Cardinal have some strong returning talent but none of it can compensate for the loss of Brook and Robin Lopez.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

No matter how you look at it – Stanford went through their preseason unscathed and their confidence is high. The offense has been efficient with Anthony Goods and Landry Fields. The team is experienced with Mitch Johnson and Drew Shiller returning to run the show and Lawrence Hill (pictured) banging down low.

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

It just still remains to be seen how big of a loss the Lopez twins really are. There is nothing on the current roster that can fill those large shoes and as the Pac-10 season gets into full swing, the Cardinal will be really hurting if they can't get inside productivity.

Oregon

Just a couple years ago, Ernie Kent was considered to be on the hot seat after failing to secure two homegrown products with Kevin Love going to UCLA and Kyle Singler opting for Duke. Nonetheless, Kent and his Ducks played well and just last season, with a senior laden squad – they made a run in the Tournament. Now, with four starters gone, the rebuilding begins with a fantastic freshman class and the return of diminutive yet dominant, Tajuan Porter (pictured).

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

One of the best freshmen classes in the country is led by a talent tandem of Michael Dunigan and Garrett Sim. Couple that duo with Porter, a player who can score from anywhere, the Ducks will be capable of surprising some folks with an explosive offense.

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

The simple answer: youth. Sim, Dunigan, and Matthew Humphrey are going to have their growing pains. They exhibited true grit with a tough non-league schedule but the grind of the Pac-10 slate may be tough to grasp at first.

Washington

Lorenzo Romar took a down-trodden Husky program and turned into one of the nation's best for a few years but now it's time to rebuild again in Seattle. With a star player Jon Brockman (pictured) and a potential breakout candidate in Quincy Pondexter, the Huskies are on the right track. Nonetheless, some recruiting battles going against them and a few players transferring out have put the team in a tight spot.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

Brockman is most powerful player in college basketball not named Tyler Hansbrough and he has the ability to take over any game when he is in the zone. Pondexter is the X- factor for a successful season though because if Brockman has someone to take the heat off of him – it will really open up the offense. Also, freshman Isaiah Thomas has come out of the gates strong for the Huskies and could be a legitimate playmaker.

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

Just like Oregon, they are inexperienced and simply not as talented as the rest of their conference foes. Romar and his staff have worked wonders in the past but this team is still a year away from returning to the upper echelon of the conference.

Oregon State

It's a time for change in Corvallis. Barack Obama's brother in law, Craig Robinson (pictured), takes the helm as the head coach of the only team in Pac-10 history to lose every conference game. The program has begun the process of changing the overall attitude surrounding Beaver basketball and while it may take some time – this team can naturally only go up.

Why they will have a winning Pac-10 record

There are some pretty good athletes on the team and some experience to boot. However, the Beavers are undersized and not quick enough to keep up with the rest of the conference.

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

They are a couple years away and that's still a promising sign considering their recent campaigns. There are going to be hiccups along the way with some bad losses and ugly games but as long as they remain committed to improving every game – they will be taking positive steps for improvement.

Post-Season Awards Projections

Player of the Year

James Harden, ASU

Newcomer of the Year

Jrue Holliday, UCLA

Coach of the Year

Mike Montgomery, Cal

All-Pac-10

Darren Collison, UCLA
Taylor Rochestie, Washington State
James Harden, F, Arizona State
Jon Brockman, F, Washington
Jordan Hill, C, Arizona

All-Pac-10 Freshmen

Isaiah Thomas, G, Washington
Jrue Holliday, G, UCLA
Klay Thompson, G, Washington State
Demar Derozan, F, USC
Michael Dunigan, C, Oregon

Teams on the Rise

Cal
Oregon State
Teams on the Decline

Washington State
Stanford


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