Beach's Bits: Pac-10 Report Card

Guess what…The Pac-10 is better than expected. But Pac-10 basketball fans already knew that. Washington is a top 10 caliber team, and Arizona might be as well. Washington State and USC look strong before the conference dips into mediocrity after that. With the start of conference play just weeks away, here's how things stack up.

Washington Huskies: 6-2. An easy choice for the top spot, though fans in Tucson may disagree. The Huskies are leading the nation in scoring at 95.7 points per game, and are second in the country in assists at 20.1 per game. Defensively they've been inconsistently excellent, though they haven't yet reached their full potential in that regard. They blew an enormous opportunity in Maui. Connecticut started out the tournament unranked at the start of the Maui Invitational and found themselves ranked 7th the following weekend. But UW have proven they're capable of competing against the best teams the country. With Maui finished, the Huskies shift their focus to fully integrate the talented youngsters on the roster and dialing in the rotation for conference play. They don't rebound like a typical Lorenzo Romar squad, but all of the other ingredients are there for a deep NCAA tournament run. Their game Saturday against a tough 7-1 Texas A&M squad is their first real road game of the season.

Arizona Wildcats: 7-1. The fact that Arizona has only lost one game to this point isn't surprising, but the way they're doing it is: Sean Miller's crew has been dominating, and they lead the conference in point differential, besting Washington's 23.9 per game margin of victory by half a point. Derrick Williams has been stellar as expected, but his supporting cast is further ahead than even the most optimistic insiders expected. Despite the fact that Williams is the only player on the roster averaging over 10 points a game, they're 12th in the country on scoring and are averaging over 17 assists a game. Their point guard play is lagging the rest of the rosters blazing development, but with so much young roster potential, the Wildcats could be scary good by the end of the season.

Washington State: 5-1. You read it right. The Cougars are the third best team in the Pac-10. Klay Thompson has been as advertised during the first month of the season, leading the conference in scoring at 21.2 points per game, but it's been the play of JC transfer Faisal Aden that has the Cougars on a roll. The junior from San Diego dropped 28 points against Fresno State and is a bona-fide three-point threat. It's all been done without stellar sophomore point guard Reggie Moore, who finally returned to from injury to score 10 points in a loss to Kansas State. Their post depth is thin, but starting forward Brock Motum is serviceable next to defensive wiz DeAngelo Casto. The Cougars aren't deep, but their top six players are good enough to keep up with anyone in the conference. Upcoming non-conference games against Mississippi St. and a December 8th contest against rival Gonzaga should be an indication of whether or not the Cougars are for real.

USC Trojans: 5-4. If you're wondering how a USC team with a 5-4 non-conference record can be the fourth-best team in the conference, gaze into the crystal ball for a moment. No, it has nothing to do with the fact that they creamed 19th-ranked Texas last Saturday 73-56, though it was an impressive victory both for the Trojans and the Pac-10. On December 15th, Fordham transfer point guard Jio Fontan, the 2009 Atlantic-10 Freshman of the Year becomes eligible. His inclusion immediately addresses the Trojans' biggest deficiency, while adding a player who is expected to be one of the most dynamic scorers in the conference. With the Pac-10's beefiest front court, solid guard play and the explosive Fontan on the way, USC is the dark horse of the conference. Coach Kevin O'Neill should have a good idea of where his team is at prior to conference play, with nationally televised showdowns versus No. 4 Kansas and No. 13 Tennessee just two weeks away.

California Bears: 5-2. The Bears, who lost nearly everybody from last season's conference championship team, have been the Pac-10's biggest surprise to date. They aren't beating up on non-conference patsies either, with quality wins over Temple, New Mexico and Iowa State. They don't win pretty, playing selfish as young teams often do, but the young roster has potential in Gary Franklin, Allen Crabbe and Bak Bak. Whether or not coach Mike Montgomery has enough depth to sustain their early season success during conference play remains to be seen. A December 22nd match-up against 4th-ranked Kansas should give a pretty solid indication of their capabilities.

UCLA: 3-4. Three seasons ago, the Bruins' future couldn't have looked rosier coming off back-to-back-to-back Final Fours and an incoming recruiting class ranked tops in the country. Fast forward to today, and it's becoming painfully apparent that something is wrong with the Pac-10's most iconic program. A mediocre start to the season seemed to evaporate in a controversial loss to Kansas in Lawrence but hit new depths in the ensuing defeat at home to Montana. Conventional wisdom blames former Bruin Jrue Holiday. Apparently, nobody within the UCLA program considered that the nation's top prep recruit might head to the NBA after one season. Sure there's a ton of potential on the roster, but it may not matter. Something is out of sync in Westwood, and there doesn't seem to be an easy answer as to how to fix it.

Arizona State: 3-4. No team has been more disappointing early on than the Arizona State Sun Devils, who only lost two players from last season's second-place team. They are currently starting three seniors. Losses to St. Johns and No. 10 Baylor weren't unexpected, but a crushing defeat at home by Richmond pretty much sums up their season to this point. The losses are mounting, and they haven't been pretty. The blame lies primarily with the seniors who have been disappointing offensively and turnover prone. Sophomore Trent Lockett (15.6 ppg) has been exceptional, playing big minutes for Herb Sendek, but a season that once held much promise has quickly withered.

Stanford: 4-2. That the Cardinal are a .500 team is a credit to the coaching staff and players. The conference's youngest team features 10 freshman, half of whom are averaging double-digit minutes for second-year coach Johnny Dawkins. The Cardinal earned solid wins against Virginia and DePaul to bolster their non-conference record. That said, outside of Jeremy Green, the Cardinal don't have the horses to sustain their early run once they reach conference play.

Oregon Ducks: 5-3. The Ducks are another team that haven't embarrassed themselves as people expected, At 5-3, the Ducks came away with a moral victory, losing by three points to 9th-ranked Missouri, and beat Texas Southern and Portland State . They play selfish and ugly and they've got a long road ahead of them as they try to rebuild the program, but no one would have been surprised if the season had started out a lot worse.

Oregon State Beavers: 3-4. The Beavers are right back where they belong, which is to say the Pac-10 cellar. A brief dalliance with the middle of the conference appears to have ended as the realities of coach Craig Robinson's gimmicky system have finally set in. In spite of a couple of quality recruiting classes, the Beavers have squandered the momentum generated by Robinson's arrival three years ago, getting creamed by Colorado last Saturday, as well as losses to Texas Southern, Seattle U and Utah Valley. It's looking like another long, dark winter in Corvallis.


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