Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Pac-10 Basketball Preview

After finishing the non-conference schedule with a 10-2 record, the road is about to get a whole lot tougher for the Sun Devils. The Pac-10 is loaded this year with deep teams and loads of new talent. Although there is a beyond-noticeable bias toward the ACC from the folks at ESPN, this year's Pac-10 lineup demands the respect of the media and the polls and should be considered the best basketball conference in the country. With 5 teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including two teams in the top 5, and Arizona State and Oregon receiving votes as well, the conference has the chance to put 7 teams in the NCAA tournament this year (5, maybe 6, is more realistic). Now the best case scenario from a viewer's standpoint would be that with so many good teams, they all beat each other up all year making each game exciting and hardening them for tournament play. Or...the top couple teams could dominate the conference and earn their way to a top seed come tourney time. Right now I'm leaning toward the latter. With the Pac-10 season kicking off on Thursday, I thought I'd take a quick look at each team, excluding Arizona State.


With Lute Olsen gone for the season, Kevin O'Neill has taken on the coaching duties and has led the Wildcats through a tough early schedule to a 9-3 record with losses to Virginia and both Kansas and Memphis on the road. U of A has also beat a Top 10 Texas A&M team and the same Illinois team that beat ASU at the Maui Invitational. Arizona may not be as deep as they have been in past years but they still have plenty of talent and enough experience to knock off anyone in the conference.

Best Player: This one is a toss up between freshman Jerryd Bayless and sophomore Chase Budinger depending on the game. Bayless leads the team in scoring, assists, and 3-point percentage while Budinger does enough things consistently right to hurt you if you don't give him enough attention.

Against ASU: January 9 @ ASU, February 10 @ Arizona


Cal has a 9-2 record but hasn't really beat anyone significant and has losses to Kansas State and Utah. Cal is a high scoring team with its strength being the post. Sophomore Ryan Anderson (6'10", 240 lbs.) and senior DeVon Hardin (6'11", 250 lbs.) lead the Golden Bears and anchor the defense as both average over 9 rebounds per game and Hardin averages almost 2 blocks per game. Also featured on Cal's roster is former Arizona high school standout Harper Kamp, who went to Mesa's Mountain View high school. Kamp has been a sharpshooter off the bench all year long and is averaging 6.4 ppg on 71% shooting from the field.

Best Player: Pac-10 scoring leader Ryan Anderson. While Hardin is the experienced senior who can dominate the post, Anderson is averaging 22.2 ppg and 9.4 rpg while stretching defenses all over the place. Anderson is a 6'10" forward who can play the post and also shoot from outside. Anderson has taken and made more 3-pointers than anyone on Cal's team, while shooting 41% from outside.

Against ASU: January 17 @ Cal, February 16 @ ASU


While the Ducks lost star Aaron Brooks to the NBA last year, Oregon still brings loads of talent to the table as all 5 starters average double figures in scoring. Oregon is a smaller team height-wise but is extremely athletic and can run up and down the court better than anyone in the conference. Seniors Malik Hairston and Maarty Leunen lead the team in scoring but 5'6" sophomore Tajuan Porter is the dangerous firecracker that can light up the scoreboard on any given night. This year's team is still a bit of a mystery as losses have come at the hands of a talented Saint Mary's team and back to back losses to Nebraska and Oakland.

Best Player: Malik Hairston. The 6'9" Hairston is a player with a complete game who leads the Ducks in points, blocks and is shooting 52.4% (!) from behind the arc. While being the most consistent offensive weapon, Hairston is also the team's best defender.

Against ASU: January 3 @ASU, March 6 @ Oregon

Oregon State

The Beavers' non-conference schedule was weaker than ASU's crappy one and they still only came out 6-6, including a 17-point loss at home to Tennessee Tech. Basically this team sucks.

Best Player: Who cares.

Against ASU: January 5 @ ASU, March 8 @ Oregon St.


I think this team might be getting a little too much credit at this point without having really proved anything yet. The Cardinal team is led by the 7-foot Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who roam the post and play solid defense and shoot a high percentage because of their constant height advantage. Other than that, I'm not that sold on the twins, considering the similarity to the last set of 7-foot twins to go through Stanford, Jason and Jarron Collins.

Best Player: Brook Lopez has only played in 3 games because he just became academically eligible but he has averaged 19.3 ppg and 7.3 rpg to lead the Cardinal.

Against ASU: January 19 @ Cal, February 14 @ ASU


The country's most prestigious program has returned to prominence with excellent coaching and lots of talent. This team really has a little bit of everything. Freshman Kevin Love is a beast in the post, guards Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook (who no one is talking about for some reason) are among the best in the conference, and wings Josh Shipp (brother of ASU's Jerren Shipp) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute form a very athletic supporting cast. Add in stellar coach Ben Howland and this team is more than dangerous. All five starters average double figures in scoring and the defense is allowing only 53.8 ppg.

Best Player: This one really depends on the game because any of the starters could lead the team on a given night (which they have...all 5 starters have been the leading scorer in at least one game this season), but most people would say Kevin Love, who is averaging a double-double as a freshman. I'm going to go against popular opinion and pick Darren Collison. Completely solid player with lots of experience who can do a little bit of everything very well.

Against ASU: January 31 @UCLA, February 28 @ ASU


An interesting team to say the least. The O.J. Mayo circus stumbled into the lap of Tim Floyd (who is not given enough respect as a college coach...nobody could have won with the NBA teams he inherited anyway) and Mayo has stepped comfortably into the college spotlight. I still thinks he shoots too much (scored 32 in the season opener but the team lost by 15 to Mercer) and is too cocky but he usually backs it up. Mayo is leading the team in scoring with a 19.5 ppg average and is supported by fellow freshman Davon Jefferson and sophomores Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson.

Best Player: O.J. Mayo. The excessive, early media hype and his history of showboating has some worried about discipline problems but so far he has played well and has faded a bit as other freshmen like Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, and Eric Gordon have taken much of the spotlight. Catch him while you can though because there's no way he'll be back in South Central next year.

Against ASU: February 2 @ USC, March 1 @ASU


A team that has dropped off a bit with the departure of star players to the NBA but still capable of pulling off some upsets when shooting well. The Huskies are led by the trio of Jon Brockman, Ryan Appleby, and Justin Dentmon. Brockmon is averaging a double-double, including a Pac-10 leading 11.1 rebounds per game and Appleby is a 3-point assassin shooting over 54% from distance.

Best Player: Jon Brockman. Just a solid post player with the exception of his free throw shooting and not much of a shot blocker. I always thought he was better than Spencer Hawes yet Hawes goes in the NBA lottery and into eventual obscurity. Go figure.

Against ASU: January 24 @ASU, February 23 @ Washington

Washington State

The highest ranked team in the Pac-10, this team surprised everyone last year with its great season. That success has carried over to this year as the Cougars have started off 12-0. The formula for Washington State's success is very similar to what has helped ASU regain competitiveness. The Cougars shoot the ball at a high percentage and play stifling defense while minimizing mistakes. Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver lead the scoring and the role players do all of the little things to pull out wins. While they haven't really had tough competition up to this point, they should play well thoughout the conference. Oh yeah, their defense allows only 49.7 points per game. That's VERY good.

Best Player: Kyle Weaver. Just look at his numbers: 11.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.8 spg, and shoots over 50% from the field. He does everything on the court...and does it well.

Against ASU: January 26 @ ASU, February 21 @ Washington St.

Predicted Finish
2. Washington State
3. Arizona
4. Stanford
5. USC
6. Arizona State
7. Oregon
8. Washington
9. California
10. Oregon State

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