Kevo's Mid-Season Pac-10 Report

To keep us all up-to-date on the ongoing action involving our various Pac-10 conference rivals, The Bootleg's Men's Basketball writer Kevin "Kevo" Danna offers up his look at the conference that is now halfway done with their season. Check out his all-Pac-10 teams, the surprise and disappointing teams so far in league play, and how he expects the standings to shake out when all is said and done.

Well, we're five weeks into the Pac-10 season, and that means all teams have played half of their 18 games.  So let's give out some mid-season awards and rankings:

First-Team All Pac-10:

• PG - Nic Wise (Arizona)
• SG - Jeremy Green (Stanford)
• SF - Quincy Pondexter (Washington)
• PF - Landry Fields (Stanford)
• C - Derrick Williams (Arizona)

Alright, I know what you are probably thinking - where in the world is Jerome Randle?  When creating the 1st-team, I thought about this question and this question only: "who is the best player at this position?"  Jerome Randle might be a flashier and more dynamic player, but Nic Wise is the better point guard.  In a position that has also been referred to as "floor general," Nic has done more leading on the court than Jerome.  Nic has single-handedly won four games for the Wildcats, including the head-to-head match-up with Jerome Randle (who only scored 15 to Nic's 30).

The rest of the positions were pretty easy to pick.  Jeremy is the best pure shooter in the conference despite Ty Abbott's 6-6 performance from beyond the arc to start the game last Saturday in Tempe.  Quincy and Landry are by far the most explosive swing forwards in the league.  Landry gets placed at the "4" because he can post up ANYBODY in the Pac-10 and is very close to averaging a double-double.  He also is in the top-10 in the league in blocks.  He might be more suited on the wing, but he definitely can do work with the best of them in the paint.

That leaves Derrick Williams to be the center.  I first had Reeves Nelson as the "5" on the first team since he is closer to being a true center than Derrick, but the Wildcat frosh's skills and production on the court were too hard to leave out.  He was a force to be reckoned with for Stanford on Thursday and is averaging 15.9 ppg and 7.3 rpg.  Plus, no true center plays on Arizona, so he has done a lot of "5" work for Sean Miller's bunch.

Second-Team All Pac-10:

• PG - Isaiah Thomas (Washington)
• SG - Jerome Randle (Cal)
• SF - Klay Thompson (Washington State)
• PF - Reeves Nelson (UCLA)
• C - Nikola Vucevic (USC)

This team is a little messier.  The backcourt makes Earl Boykins seem like a post-player.  However, the talents of Thomas and Randle are too good to ignore.  Neither guy is your textbook point guard, but both are way too small to be an actual "2."  Regardless, they are the two best guards not on the first team, and their blazing speed will make up for their height deficiencies.  Jerome is a wee-bit taller and has better range, so he becomes the shooting guard and Isaiah runs point.  Klay Thompson is an obvious choice here given his ability to put the biscuit in the basket in a variety of ways.

And then we get to the "bigs."  For the first time in a long, long time, there is no real true post threat in the conference, and thus no Pac-10 "big" is good enough to make the all-conference first team.  However, both Reeves Nelson and Nikola Vucevic are very solid.  Reeves is a workhorse in the paint and is very physical on defense.  I have loved him since the 1st half of their season-opener against Fullerton, and the affair/offensive rebounds haven't stopped.  With regards to the other post from the other Southern California school, Nikola is the most improved player in the conference - not stat-wise, but game-wise.  He didn't belong on a Pac-10 floor last year, and this year he is very fluid and moves around very well for his size.

All-Newcomer Team:

• PG - Mike Gerrity (USC)
• SG - Reggie Moore (Washington State)
• SF - Derrick Williams (Arizona)
• PF - Alex Stephenson (USC)
• C - Reeves Nelson (UCLA)

It's been a while since out-of-conference transfers have come to the Pac and made an immediate impact on their new teams, but that is exactly what Gerrity and Stephenson have done.  USC looked borderline horrible at points in their first eight games without Gerrity in the lineup, and then they beat 8th-ranked Tennessee by 22 points in Mike's season opener, a game in which he recorded a double-double (12 points, ten assists).  Alex Stephenson has come in from Chapel Hill and made USC's frontline the most complete in the Pac-10.  His pace is slowing down a little bit, but he was close to averaging a double-double up through the first part of January.

Reggie Moore might not have been the biggest name to come to a school in the Evergreen State this year (Abdul Gaddy wins that honor), but he certainly has been the most productive.  He is the Cougs' second-leading scorer behind Klay Thompson at 14.3 ppg and has come through in big spots for Wazzu as a frosh.  He averaged 22.5 ppg in a recent road trip to LA and hit six straight free throws down the stretch against the Farm Boys to not even let the Card have a chance to tie the game up.

Most Surprising Team: Arizona

Oh what a little stability can do for a program.  Now that Sean Miller is in town and has settled down into his new digs a little bit, the Wildcats are tied for first place and are riding a four-game winning streak into the final nine regular season conference games.  Considering the way this team got destroyed by a struggling Oklahoma team in early December, needed a Nic Wise buzzer-beater to knock off Atlantic-Sun opponent Lipscomb, and lost to Oregon State in January, this is a shocker for me.  They certainly have the athleticism on their roster to be a contender for the Pac-10 crown this season, and Miller is doing a great job of putting it all together.

Most Disappointing Team: Washington

The Huskies were ranked 10th in the country at one point this season, but that was before they played a road game.  Once they left the
friendly confines of Bank of America, their ugly half reared its ugly head.  Stanford might not have won a road game, but at least they have won away from Maples (and beat a pretty good Virginia team at that!).  Romar's squad can't say that much.  After struggling with the Oregon schools at home to open up conference play, they completely laid an egg in the desert, losing to both the Sun Devils and Wildcats by 17 points.  On their next road trip, they lost on a last-second shot to UCLA and got absolutely destroyed by USC, a game in which Quincy Pondexter only scored two points.  They beat Seattle and Washington State by a combined 75 points in their last two games, but guess where those games were played?

Team to look out for: UCLA

Every week seems like the week that they finally begin to sink in conference.  Halfway through conference, and we're still waiting.  True, they finish up with five of their last seven on the road, and their toughest road trips are still ahead of them.  However, UCLA has always been a team where it seems like it doesn't matter where they play, and it is holding true this year.  They are 3-2 at home in conference and 2-2 on the road.  And that 19-point loss at home to USC?  Don't worry about it - UCLA has won their last three at the Galen Center, including two years ago after losing to USC at home.  This team keeps on finding ways to stay in the thick of the race, and I don't expect that to change.

Team Most Likely to take a Nose-Dive: USC

So far, I'd say Kevin O'Neill is doing a damn good job in keeping his players motivated to compete considering their circumstances, but an 0-fer in Oregon didn't look good, especially after the team let a technical foul call on a manager take them out of their game on Saturday (and then admitted as much after the game).  There's no guarantee that this team will bring it every night - obviously they want to win every game they play, but the level of intensity and sense of urgency will probably not be there night-in-night-out. 

Pac-"9" Predictions for the rest of the season (Remember, I don't pick Stanford out of superstition!):

1. Cal
2. Arizona State
3. Arizona
4. Washington
5. UCLA
6. Washington State
7. USC
8. Oregon
9. Oregon State

When it is all said and done, Cal is still the best team of the Pac-9, and they will wake up.  Arizona has to hit up the Washington schools this weekend, and there is no way they sweep that trip.  They might have Wise, but the team is very young otherwise outside of him and Horne and a tailspin in Washington can really hurt their collective confidence.  Arizona State has proven that they are a very dangerous team and will get some revenge on the Wildcats.  Washington would be ranked higher, but they have to prove they can win on the road.  UCLA and Washington State will keep along their paths that they have all season.  I know I crowned UCLA as the team to watch out for in the second half, but that doesn't mean I think they'll finish in the Top-3.  Along with their good wins will come at least one or two bad losses.  USC is heading towards the bottom, but they will still have a better record than the Oregon schools when they get a little revenge on them at the Galen Center during the penultimate weekend of conference play.

The Pac-10 is gearing up for its closest finish one-through-ten in history - stay logged on to TheBootleg.com for further updates on the happenings in the conference!

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