Pac-10 Tourney Notes/Observations

After sitting through the first six Pac-10 Tournament games at the Staples Center, we have collected a number of notes and observations. The Pac-10 could be limited by its point guards, the Pac-10 refs reinforce their reputation, Ben Braun's job could be safe, and more...

-- The Pac-10 referees didn't do much to erase a growing poor reputation. They were part of national stories last week about questionable calls in the waning minutes of UCLA games that might have impacted the outcome. Then, Thursday, in super slow-mo on TV, they were exposed in the ASU-USC game for a bad call on ASU's Jeff Pendergraph, calling an over-the-back foul on a put-back when Pendergraph, it appeared, didn't even touch Davon Jefferson, the USC Trojan he went over. Pendergraph's basket would have tied the game with 17 seconds left. The loss very well could contribute to keeping ASU, who has a poor RPI, out of the NCAA Tournament.

-- The word is that Ben Braun could be safe for another year at Cal. Apparently the buy-out in his contract for this year is $1 million, but after next season it falls to just one-month's salary. With how much Cal has forked out for the salary of football coach Jeff Tedford, it's thought they don't have the funds to buy out Braun this year, unless a big-monied booster steps up. The word on Oregon's Ernie Kent is mixed, but leaning toward Oregon letting him go. Many close to the situation think Oregon will let him go and pursue Mark Few, but others believe he's safe.

-- While there were many factors that contributed to UCLA's blow-out win over Cal, one of them was Cal not exploiting the match-up issues of Jamal Boykin as opposed to Devon Hardin. While it very well could be just a matter of the specific match-up against UCLA, in watching Cal play this year, they were often more effective with Boykin on the floor rather than Hardin. How can that be – given that Hardin is a 6-10 athletic monster and Boykin is really a 6-6, grounded average player? Because of the match-up problems Cal's Ryan Anderson creates, being 6-10 and able to step out and shoot or score inside, most of the time the opposition had to put a quicker forward on Anderson and its slower and bigger post player on Hardin. Hardin isn't much of an offensive player – except for the occasional spectacular dunk – but Boykin, being crafty, can definitely exploit bigger, slower centers. Cal gives up something on defense with Boykin in, admittedly. Really, bottom line, it's a situation, due to aspects of its personnel, when a team might sometimes be better playing a less-talented player.

-- The Washington Huskies missed something that just about everyone at the Staples Center Wednesday knew. Against Cal, on that last in-bound play, everyone in the building knew the Bears were going to get the ball to Ryan Anderson. Quincy Pondexter was on Anderson, and Anderson lost him coming around a screen by Hardin at the top of the key. Anderson then caught the ball and buried an open three. But why wouldn't Artem Wallace, who was guarding Hardin, step up and deny the ball to Anderson? Or, at least, challenge Anderson's shot? Wallace stuck with Hardin, but Hardin wasn't going to be the last-shot guy for Cal. It seemed like a blatantly obvious strategy that somehow got lost on the Washington brain trust.

-- If you're a casual Arizona fan, you have to be asking yourself: Why aren't the Wildcats very good? They have good players – in fact, a good trio among Jerryd Bayless, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill – who might start on most of the teams in the Pac-10. How is it that Arizona is 19-14, 8-10 in the Pac-10 (its worst conference season in over 20 years), and then gets bumped out of the Pac-10 Tournament by a team -- Stanford – that isn't clearly more talented?

-- The impact on the game that Stanford's 7-footers Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez make is continually shocking. Sometimes it's like an adult playing with his children in the backyard, just batting the ball around above the children's heads. You have to wonder what Trent Johnson will have in terms of talent when the Lopezes leave The Farm. If you take away the Lopezes right now, and add, say, a serviceable Pac-10 center, the Cardinal are probably the second-worst team in the conference next to Oregon State. The future cupboard looks relatively bare, if you consider the younger players on the current roster and the recruiting class coming in. Stanford really needs to get Brendan Lane, the 6-8 forward from Rocklin (Calif.) High, and Anthony Stover, the 6-10 center from La Canada (Calif.) Renaissance, and then an exceptional guard, in the 2009 class.

-- The point guards around the Pac-10, really, aren't exceptional. It's a position in the conference that doesn't have a great deal of elite talent. UCLA's Darren Collison is probably the one true elite player. Who's next? Cal's Jerome Randle? Washington State's Taylor Rochestie?

How much better would, say, Stanford be with an elite talent at point guard? Stanford's Mitch Johnson has found his role, but he, WSU's Rochestie and USC's Daniel Hackett just aren't elite talent. Then you have Arizona's Nic Wise, Washington's issues at point guard, Oregon's Tajuan Porter, Arizona State's Derek Glasser and then, well, Oregon State. There isn't one point guard besides Collison on any of the three All-Pac-10 teams.

And just getting by in your point guard play in the Pac-10 can cost you. There are dozens of examples of it all season, and then another on Thursday with ASU's Glasser. Glasser probably isn't a Pac-10 level point guard, and has been getting by with smarts and guts. Then, in the last couple of minutes of the ASU-USC game Thursday, he made a couple of bad judgment calls – taking an errant drive to the basket and then, at the beginning of the shot clock, when ASU needed to get a good shot, he rushed the ball down the court and forced a pass out of bounds for a turnover.

Probably the one thing limiting the Pac-10 conference from truly being the clearly best conference in the country is its point guards.

-- You'd have to think that the NCAA Tournament bubble teams in the Pac-10 would play their butts off in the Pac-10 Tournament, to try to justify their admittance into the Big Dance. Both Arizona State and Arizona did, in fact, play hard, from start to finish, in their respective games, despite ultimately losing. It was curious, though, that Oregon came out against Washington State like they wanted to be somewhere else. The Cougars cut up the Ducks in the first half, and not because WSU was executing so well as much as Oregon being particularly flat, especially on defense, allowing WSU's shooters wide open looks.

-- While many talk about the Pac-10 making an impact on the NCAA Touranment by getting in 6 or 7 teams, really, the way the conference will make an impact is by its best teams going deep into the tournament. So, it was good to see its four best teams – UCLA, Stanford, USC and Washington State – all win in the Pac-10 tournament and give each a chance of improving its NCAA Tournament seed. You'd have to think that Stanford is a 3 seed, maybe a 4, USC could be a 6 (or better, if they beat UCLA tonight), and Washington State a 5 seed.

-- You have to wonder if a number of players around the Pac-10 who were recruited by UCLA – that picked their respective school over the Bruins – are having a slight twinge of buyer's remorse. Someone like Oregon's Maarty Leunen or Malik Hairston, or Arizona's Chase Budinger, or Washington's Jon Brockman. They have to be wondering what they could be doing at UCLA, believing that they could actually be a missing piece of the UCLA puzzle. And it's not just about, obviously, having a vastly better chance at winning a national championship, but the exposure you get at UCLA. If Malik Hairston, who is averaging 16 points per game, were on UCLA, he'd be getting national hype.

Jordan Farmar told me when he was a UCLA sophomore that he didn't fully realize before making his college decision how much being on a good UCLA team boosts your exposure nationally.

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