Picking the Pac

This week's column from standout 6th Man and Stanford Daily writer Patrick Fitzgerald offers up his thoughts stemming from this past weekend's hard-earned sweep of the Washington schools at Maples. See picks for the All Pac-10 teams, including the top freshmen, great quotes heard from the 6th Man Club, this week's poll progress, and a look ahead to the final regular season games in Los Angeles.

Coaches may loathe them, but we writers love lists. They're simple to put together, easy to read and fun to debate. First, the All Pac-10 team. To preserve the quality of the award, I've only selected 10 (and, please note this has no relation to my opinion of Stanford potentially expanding its freshman class). I've listed them in alphabetical order, separating the easy picks (The "Elite Eight") at the top. The final two were tough choices, and there is plenty of room for debate. So keep the comments coming.

All Pac-10 Team

Ryan Anderson, California – The sophomore big man would be a top contender for Player of the Year if his team wasn't in ninth place. Cal could be scary, however, if he returns and they fire Ben Braun.

Jerryd Bayless, Arizona – The freshman guard struggled with early injuries but has displayed a dizzying ability to drive to the hoop and make plays. Likely an early lottery pick in June's NBA draft.

Jon Brockman, Washington – Earlier this season, I mistakenly called Brockman a senior. That must have been wishful thinking on my part, as the bruising big man's hustle and knack for the boards makes him a player every opposing fan loves to hate, but would cheer for madly if he were on the home team.

James Harden, Arizona State – Dark-horse candidate for Freshman of the Year. He, and his team, have been better than expected.

Brook Lopez, Stanford – What more can I say? The guy is absolutely on fire right now, taking over games and carrying his team down the stretch. An easy top-five pick in the NBA right now. If Stanford tops UCLA for the conference title, look for Brook to get the nod for Player of the Year.

Kevin Love, UCLA – The freshman big man has delivered as expected. Solid, solid play for the (current) top team in the conference. The jury is still out whether his game will translate to the next level (there's been concerns over his height athleticism) but for now, a truly dominant collegiate big man.

O.J. Mayo, USC – Earlier this year I criticized the hype surrounding Mayo, and I stand by that assessment. Yes, he leads the conference in scoring and 3-pointers made. He also takes a ton of shots, and seems to dominate his team more than he dominates the game.

Kyle Weaver, Washington State – He may be underrated to the point of being overrated at this point, but the guy's a player. May not do anything great (offensively, at least) but does a lot of things well. The best perimeter defender in the conference, and perhaps the nation.

These final two were a crapshoot, really. Tough, tough calls that could go either way…

Maarty Leunen, Oregon – Yes, the Ducks disappointed this year, but Leunen's quietly put together a strong year. He's top-10 in conference play in scoring, top-5 in rebounding, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. He also leads the league in three-point percentage (37 for 66, which is over 56 percent!) and has hit 13 of 16 in his last three games (13 of 16!). And I love the two a's in Maarty.

Chase Budinger, Arizona – I heckled the guy mercilessly when the Wildcats came to Maples, and claim all credit for his ensuing 5-for-16 performance from the field (OK, Fred Washington's defense may have had something to do with it, too). But I told Chase (well, my TV at least) that I would take it all back if he hit that big 3 against UCLA on Sunday–which he, of course, did. The Bruins still pulled out the win, but I am a man of my word.

OK, I'll admit it. The following players may have been jobbed…

Close calls: Darren Collison, Malik Hairston, Derrick Low

I'm mad at Collison because I picked him preseason as player of the year, and he let me down. Hairston's been solid as well, but no way Oregon gets two players on the All-Pac-10 team with the year they've had (although is it fair to them that they were absurdly picked to finish third in the preseason media poll? I never received a ballot…). Low really deserves a spot, too, although the Cougars have faded a bit. The players tell me he's tougher than he looks to guard, with a nasty first step and an ability to somehow pump-fake and shoot in the same motion (Fred Washington learned this the hard way on Sunday).

As for my All-Freshman Team, the first four are easy: Bayless, Harden, Love and Mayo were all shoo-ins for the all-conference team, much less freshman. (You gotta love the NBA age limit right now, am I correct? The colleges benefit, the NBA benefits, the only parties hurt are the players, who have to wait an extra year to collect their millions–unless they go to Indiana, or apparently Harvard…). These four were each among the top six scorers in the league. Wow.

As for my fifth selection? ASU's Ty Abbott. I'm liking the Sun Devils next year. Herb Sendek's coached them magnificently this season (as I said in last week's column, a close second to Trent Johnson for coach of the year honors) and Harden and Abbott, as well as junior forward Jeff Pendergraph, are both nice pieces to build the team around (assuming, of course, that Harden stays. Did I say that age limit was good for the schools?)

Overheard in the 6th Man

"Hey, Rochestie, nice lay-up last game!" – To WSU guard Taylor Rochestie, whose potential game-tying, last second layup in overtime barely rimmed out in Stanford's 67-65 win at Pullman last month. Fred Washington said it was one of the funniest, albeit harsh, things he's heard from the 6th Man all year.

"Appleby, where are your rings?" – To Washington guard Ryan Appleby, who transferred from Florida right before the Gators went on to win two national championships. Yes, his playing time jumped from eight to over 23 minutes per game, but do you think he ever asks himself "what if?"

"Hey Tim, here's your shirt" – My good buddy, also named Tim, was on Tim Morris' intramural softball team two years ago. They won the title, but Morris never picked up his commemorative "IM Champions" t-shirt. So of course, my buddy Tim taunted Morris with the shirt, which elicited a few laughs from the UW layup line. While he remained stoic on the court, Morris definitely heard the comment: after the game he called Tim to ask for the shirt!

Looking ahead

Can last week's Josh Shipp show up on Thursday? Please?

Stanford fans won't soon forget Shipp's performance Jan. 3, when the junior swingman dropped a season-high 21 points on 5 for 8 shooting behind the arc. The Bruins as a team shot a sweltering 9 of 16 from three-point land and beat the Cardinal 76-67 in Stanford's regular season conference debut.

Sunday, however, Shipp shot just 3 of 7 from the field (1 of 5 from beyond the arc). He scored just seven points, although his team did manage to squeak by Arizona, 68-66. Needless to say, Stanford fans should be hoping Shipp's slump persists. UCLA is tough to beat even if they bring their B game. As Trent Johnson likes to say, it will be about who gets "the breaks."

As for USC, a lot depends on how Thursday's contest shapes out. Either scenario seems to favor Stanford. The team tends to rebound well from defeat, and has not lost two games in a row all year. A win over UCLA, and the team can control its own destiny to take a share of the Pac-10 regular season title. The Trojans, for their part, have been hit-or-miss as of late. Mayo has been putting up good numbers, but the team is 3-3 in its last six and he hasn't been receiving a lot of help. Simply put, they won't have an answer for the Lopez twins, or, as Peter Prowitt called them the other day, the Lopi.

Poll Progress

Stanford's sweep of the Washington Schools at home brought them back to lucky number seven in the national rankings. Stanford seems to be getting consistent love from both the Associated Press and the coaches's poll. More interesting, to me at least, is the slight difference in UCLA's No. 3 ranking from the press and No. 2 ranking from the coaches. Sure, the Bruins topped Memphis in the ESPN/USA Today poll by one measly vote, but some are bound to wonder if the coaches know anything that we do not.

Is there something to it? Doubtful. I don't mean to say that the coaches don't know more than the passionate fan or diligent beat writer. Rather, the coaches don't really take the polls too seriously. Mike Montgomery once told me he would just yell down the hall for his staffers to throw his picks together. NCAA seeding, on the other hand, is a different beast…

Coming "sometime..."

Last week I promised my Pac-10 draft board. Well, it's still in progress and I'll save it for when I can devote an entire column to it. Plus, each week things shift a bit. See you next week!

Patrick Fitzgerald covers men's basketball as well as the occasional news story for The Stanford Daily. Have some dirt on an opposing player or a good idea for a 6th Man chant? Email him at patfitz@stanford.edu.

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