Draft status set, league taking shape

We're almost six months away from the start of the basketball season and a lot can happen before November rolls around. That being said, the deadline for staying in the NBA Draft has passed and we have a better idea of how the league will shape up. Here is an early look at the Pac-10 basketball race.

1. UCLA
The Bruins lose three starters and still keep the No. 1 ranking? Yup, it is hard to bet against a team that won the regular season conference title, the Pac-10 Tournament title and went to the national championship game. That's not to say that they don't have a ton of question marks but they get the nod here.
Key Loses: PG Jordan Farmar, C Ryan Hollins, C Michael Fey, F Cedric Bozeman.
Key Newcomers: PF James Keefe, SF Josh Shipp (injury redshirt)
Biggest Strength: The wing. With Aaron Afflalo forgoing the draft and Shipp coming back injury this unit is strong. Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Luc Richard Mbah a Moute played PF but is really a small forward.
Biggest Question Mark: Post. The Bruins lose three senior post players. That's the bad news. The good news is that for the most part all three are replaceable. Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya are both skilled and Keefe should be an impact guy. They do lack traditional size and don't have a ton of experience.
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Darren Collison. As a freshman he was impressive, but can he take over the PG full time? Odds are he'll be just fine but the player he was replacing was special.

2. Arizona
The Wildcats had a bit of a down year by their standards and lose three seniors. However, only one of those players will be missed and the Cats avoided any early NBA departures. Barring any transfers, the team looks to be as deep as they have been in years.
Key Loses: SF Hassan Adams, SG Chris Rodgers
Key Newcomers: SF Chase Budinger, PG Nic Wise
Biggest Strength: The wing. The Cats return Marcus Williams who would have likely been a late first round draft pick. They also bring in stud freshman Budinger and should have Jawann McClellan back from academic and injury woes. Fendi Onobun could see minutes and Daniel Dillon can be a defensive stopper.
Biggest Question Mark: Center edges out point guard by a hair. Kirk Walters still hasn't become a consistent contributor and Mohamed Tangara still looks raw. Walk-on Bret Brielmaier played key minutes last year and looks to do so again. Incoming freshman Jordan Hill could be a factor here but many assume he will redshirt.
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Mustafa Shakur. Shakur is a senior but burned a few bridges while exploring his draft options. The Cats need consistent PG play, something Shakur has not been able to do over the course of his first three seasons.

3. Washington
The Huskies have a lot of talent in place but are losing the heart and soul of their team. Wait, didn't we say that same thing a year ago? We weren't sure they could survive losing Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons and they were still a very good team last year. Now they must replace Brandon Roy and Bobby Jones.
Key Loses: SG Brandon Roy, SF Bobby Jones, PF Mike Jensen, PF Jamaal Williams
Key Newcomers: G Harvey Perry (redshirt), C Spencer Hawes, SF Quincy Pondexter, PG Adrian Oliver, SF Phil Nelson
Biggest Strength: The post. Sure the Huskies lost two of their top three big men but they may have the best starting unit in the league. Jon Brockman should make huge leaps in his second year and Spencer Hawes may contend for Freshman of the Year honors.
Biggest Question Mark: Leadership. The Huskies lose their senior leaders. Can sophomores Justin Dentmon or Brockman take over in that department? Is a freshman going to come in and lead the team?
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Dentmon. He was very good last year as a freshman starter but now he needs to step up in the scoring and leadership department.

4. USC
USC could surprise. Tim Floyd seems to be building something in Los Angeles. He had them in contention for an NCAA Tourney spot with a month to play. They return the bulk of the roster and add some solid recruits.
Key Loses: Ryan Francis (deceased), Gabriel Pruitt (academics, first semester)
Key Newcomers: F Davon Jefferson, PF Taj Gibson, SF Kevin Galloway
Biggest Strength: Backcourt. Assuming Pruitt returns second semester, the Trojans will have one of the better scoring backcourts in the league. They will miss Francis but Pruitt, Lodrick Stewart and Nick Young can fill it up.
Biggest Question Mark: Academics. Can Pruitt get eligible. Will the Trojans have prep schooler Jefferson?
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Young and Stewart. They will need these two in the fall while they wait for Pruitt to gain his eligibility.

5. Cal
The loss of Leon Powe, Richard Midgley and Rod Benson will hurt but they return the bulk of their NCAA Tournament squad as well as a few decent recruits.
Key Loses: PF Leon Powe, SG Richard Midgley, PF Rod Benson
Key Newcomers: PG Jerome Randle, PF Ryan Anderson, SF Patrick Christopher, PF Taylor Harrison
Biggest Strength: Backcourt. Ayinde Ubaka, Theo Robertson and Omar Wilkes spearhead a solid group.
Biggest Question Mark: Post. DaVon Hardin is big time but can the rest of the roster replace the three departing big men.
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Jordan Wilkes. He may be a completely different type of post player than Powe but the Bears need him to pick up some of the slack for the early departure.

6. Stanford
Some point to the senior losses but Stanford has some nice young players and a solid recruiting class to bolster the roster.
Key Loses: SF Dan Grunfeld, G Jason Haas, C Matt Haryasz, PG Chris Hernandez
Key Newcomers: SG Landry Fields, PF Will Paul, C Brook Lopez, PF Robin Lopez
Biggest Strength: Post. The Lopez twins join Lawrence Hill, Peter Prowitt and Taj Finger to form a solid unit.
Biggest Question Mark: Determination. Last year this team underachieved a bit, can they overachieve this season?
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods. The Cardinal need a PG to step up and replace Hernandez who was the heart and soul of this team.

7. Oregon
The Ducks have the talent to be better than seventh but they have yet to prove they can utilize that talent.
Key Loses: SG Brandon Lincoln, C Matt Short, PF Ivan Johnson
Key Newcomers: PF Joevan Catron, Tajuan Porter Biggest Strength: Wings. Malik Hairston, Chamberlain Oguchi and Bryce Taylor are can all score.
Biggest Question Mark: The post. They were thin there last year and the loss of Short and Johnson doesn't help matters.
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Hairston. He's been good can he lead this team to the post season.

8. Arizona State
The Herb Sendek era begins. While I tab the Sun Devils eighth, don't be shocked if they don't rise up and finish higher.
Key Loses: G Tyrone Jackson, F Allen Morill
Key Newcomers: SF Jerren Shipp, SG Christian Polk, PF George Odufuwa
Biggest Strength: Wings. Bryson Krueger and Kevin Kruger are a nice pair at the two and three.
Biggest Question Mark: Adapting. New coach, new system, new expectations.
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Kruger. The senior is the team leader and if he has a big season the Devils could surprise.

9. Oregon State
Although Jay John seems to have things going in the right direction, the rest of the Pac-10 may be improving too fast.
Key Loses: F Nick Dewitz, G Jason Fontenot, G Lamar Hurd, G Chris Stephens
Key Newcomers: SF Seth Tarver, SG Lathen Wallace, SG Calvin Hayes, Josh Tarver (redshirt)
Biggest Strength: Front line. Sasha Cuic and Kyle Jeffers are solid inside players.
Biggest Question Mark: Backcourt. Beavers lose their top three guards from last year.
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Sasha Cuic. The European big man has the ability to be one of the toughest match-ups in the Pac-10.

10. Washington State
I just don't see the Cougars having enough to get out of the cellar. Add to that a first time coach and it could be a tough year.
Key Loses: Randy Green
Key Newcomers: PG Charles Dillon
Biggest Strength: Post. Robbie Cowgill is good and Chris Henry is a reliable banger.
Biggest Question Mark: Overall talent level. On paper the Cougars don't look to have enough to escape the bottom of the league.
Player Who Needs To Step Up: Tony Bennett. He's not a player but the first-year coach will have his work cut out for him.


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