Pac-10 Conference Preview
by Joaquin Mesa
The summer baseball lull has come and passed, and college football has once again reminded us that there is indeed a benevolent, caring god. Now, in the midst of our own celebration of life, comes Pac-10 basketball. Can you believe it? Once again we will be given the gift of smack talking, last second shots, and a library of stats that reaches from Palo Alto to Westwood. Everyone, take out your prayer books and read passage 10:13 with me:
“As I walk through the valley of Tucson, where Lute Olsen is good, and reach Pauley Pavilion, where Steve Lavin was begotten from of our Lord and master Coach John Wooden, may we remember to be loud, and boisterous when in stadium, and may our years be many, and championships be plentiful. Amen.”
With that being said, I may now proceed to rip apart every team within the conference that deserves to be ripped apart, my Wooden given right as a college basketball fanatic. I must admit that this year, there is a lot of possibility amongst the elite of the conference. With Arizona and Oregon bringing back strong teams, pre-season Pac-10 rankings will look good. The conference should have two teams in the top ten, and if weren’t so far away from the East coast, the top five. However, besides these two teams, the pickings are slim. Let us go through each team together, with open arms and radically cynical preconceptions, determined to accost those deserving of penalty. From bottom to top, according to our projections, the teams are as follows:
10. Washington State Cougars (6-21, 1-17)
Egad, man. Can a 1-17 team bounce back in conference play in perhaps the strongest conference in the country? On top of last year’s woes, Washington State also lost two strong seniors in Mike Bush and J Locklier, two of their top four scorers. They do have an exciting backcourt in Marcus Moore and Jerry McNair, both Southern California natives. They teamed up to lead the team in scoring fourteen times, with McNair doing most of his damage in the early season, and Moore, growing into a quality second year player and the stand-out on the team. Now, with McNair back for his senior season, and Moore gaining a reputation in the Pac-10 as their go-to guy, look for Washington State to beat Arizona State and Washington for at least two Pac-10 victories this year. They key to the season – playing well against Gonzaga before conference play begins. If Washington State can do this, then their confidence will help them against conference opponents who will put up stiffer competition then Gonzaga. Washington State, who has everything to look forward to, will not be bragging about their recruiting class. It includes one player, Bruce Jones (6-0, G). He is nothing to speak of, enough said.
9. Arizona State Sun Devils(14-14, 7-11)
Arizona State held their own against a lot of their Pac-10 opponents last year. They beat Oregon, Arizona, UCLA (played them close the first time also). They were led by Chad Prewitt, who left. They are Seniored by almost half the team; a total of seven players. The main returning player is Curtis Millage. Why am I being so inarticulate about their chances? Well, because I don’t believe them to have any. While seven of their players are seniors, four are freshman, and only Mileage is a returning contributor. I know that this isn’t fair to Tommy Smith, all 6-10 of him. But the brother is 6-10, and he barely out-rebounded Mileage, a 6-2 guard. Plus, now that they have forewarned everyone about their worth in the Pac-10, teams know to take them seriously, and won’t plan ahead to their game with Arizona. Thus, I foresee a sad season. A sad, sad season. Arizona State has been privileged with Allen Morrill (6-6, F), Ike Diogu (6-8, F), Dewy Dewitt (6-8, F), and Serge Angounou (6-7, F). These four players are not 7 footers, but they are strong, effective and nationally touted. Arizona State came away with a top 50 player in each of the last two years. This will help them in the long run, but immediately Ike Diogu will stand out as the freshmen most likely to get minutes.
8. Oregon State Beavers (12-17, 4-14)
The core of this team remains in tact, and the possibilities for them are endless. However, there is a new coach in town, Jay John, and men with two first names always get teased about sleeping with their cousins, which does not bode well for team morale. Much like USC last year, there are three returning seniors in Philip Ricci, Brian Jackson and Jimmie Haywood. They accounted for a large portion of Washington’s scoring last year, about 36 points per game, and will undoubtedly lead the team again this year. Phillip Ricci is poised to blow up. He is a Clancy-like forward whose height (6-7) confuses opposing players who don’t expect him to go for rebounds. Look for him to become the thorn in team’s side this year. There is not a lot of experienced height in the conference, with Gadzuric, Borchardt, Clancy and Christofferson gone, so it might be a good year for short forwards like Ricci. Oregon State has newcomer’s Chris Stephens (6-1, G), who is a great shooter, and a good ball-handler, Sal Vance (6-7, F) who is a strong forward and will see some time, and Lamar Hurd (6-3, G) who will be the primary ball-handler when on the court. They have high hopes for him. O State is trying to grow out of the success of Oregon last year. Give them another year, though.
7. Stanford Cardinal(19-9, 12-6)
Stanford lost two NBA caliber players in Borchardt and Jacobsen. However, they return one of the most exciting Pac-10 players last year in Josh Childress. His talent combined with a strong head coach in Mike Montgomery, who always gets more out of his players then any other team in the nation, and the Cardinals might make a few heads turn, but that’s it. The key to the game for the Cardinals is getting rebounds. Last year against USC, a smaller team by at least a foot, Stanford looked like Mugsy jumping against Shaq. The tenacity of Stanford will be questioned constantly this year as they return a team that finished fifth in the Pac-10 and needed a strong second half showing over the Oregons, Washingtons and Arizonas in the last four weeks to get them into the tourney. I’ve been praying for Stanford to stay away from early losses to California and Arizona State, but the smart ones are always stubborn. Intriguing newcomers include Carlton Weatherby (5-11, G), a standout point guard in Washington, Dan Grunfeld (6-6, g), Jason Haas (6-2, G) and Matt Haryasz (6-10, F). Grunfeld is the son of ex-NBA player Ernie Grunfeld, and has an all-around game that has coaches talking. Matt Haryasz is a 6-10 Center that competed in the high jump in high school. If a 6-10 player can jump, who is going to stop him? The only big man in the conference who can jump is Channing Frye – and it isn’t as high as one might think (it’s mostly reach). If Weatherby, Grunfeld and Haryasz can stay together four years, look out! As for their contributions this year, look for one of them to get good minutes while the others come off the bench and show signs of brilliance.
6. California Golden Bears(22-8, 12-6)
When California came into opposing arenas, rivals quickly found out that all a team needs to win is a spunky point guard and an Israeli soldier. California slept its way into a second place finish in the Pac-10 largely due to Amit Tamir, Joe Shipp and Shauntay Legans. Legans has gone to Fresno State for his senior year (Fresno State is widely regarded as the best school to ruin a career at, Legan’s couldn’t miss the opportunity), and A.J. Diggs, all 5-9 of him, will take the reigns at point and look to spread the ball to a total of nine freshman. Joe Shipp is one of the best shooters in the Pac-10. He doesn’t shoot nearly enough, but it is largely due to the fact that he has garnered double teams for three years now. Look for Tamir to blow up, Shipp to contribute an average of 19-20 points and Diggs to hand out 5 assists per game. If Cal doesn’t finish high in the standings, then look forward to next year, when there will be nine returning sophomores. California lost Jamal Sampson to the draft last year, their top recruit, and this year they lost Kennedy Winston who decided to play for Alabama, a team closer to home, when his mother got sick. However, California got a boost when it heard that Yaniv Green was committing to Cal over UCLA and UConn, then he changed his mind because he had been paid for playing in a European league. It is official, Cal has had a horrible off-season. There are a handful of other freshmen, but they are all uninspiring. It was truly Winston who was going to make this team good. However, look for three of the biggest recruits to make immediate impacts under the boards, Rod Benson (6-10, C), David Paris (6-9, F) and Spanish import Jordi Geli Vilardell (6-10, F).
5. USC Trojans (22-9, 12-6)
How does a team lose three starters and still have an experienced, qualified squad? I don’t know, ask coach Bibby. The Trojans are an X-factor this season, with three junior college transfers taking over for Player of the Year Sam Clancy, David Bluthethal and Brandon Granville. Jerry Dupree, Errick Craven, Rory Oneil and Desmond Farmer are all back to pick up the slack. Each of these four finished behind the big three in scoring, but they consistently showed they had the range and game to take USC to a third straight NCAA tournament. Farmer was a three-point wizard in the loss to NC Wilmington, while Craven took control at point and two guard. Oneil will get a chance to shoot more as USC will try and create an inside-out game that can cause problems for teams with slower big men (Oneil is rather slim, fast and athletic). Jerry Dupree is sitting out the first five games because he annoyed Bibby, a rather stern father figure, just ask his estranged son Mike. However, this is why Bibby is highly regarded as one of the best coaches in the game; he mentally prepares his players for big games, and long battles. I like USC’s chances, but it can go either way. Jonathon Oliver, a 7-0 transfer will play a big role in trying to get back that rebounding edge that Clancy and Bluthethal created in almost every game last year. USC has no freshmen. Roy Smiley (6-4, G), and Brandon Brooks (6-1, PG) are the other newcomers, and they look to contribute immediately. Bibby made a wise decision in bringing in transfers who could more readily take the place of three leaving starters. However, these are not the biggest names to come into the Pac-10 this year (please refer to Arizona and Washington).
4. Washington Huskies(11-18, 5-13)
Head Coach Lorenzo Romar is new at Washington, and is already in trouble for his role in recruiting violations. Along with assistant Cameron Dollar, ex-UCLA tourney hero, Romar has had do deal with a barrage of media attention and doubts about a rebounding program’s chances, and the guy hasn’t even coached a game for Washington. All of this aside, Washington is the sleeper of the conference, just like they were last year. However, now they have the proven head coach that will go the extra mile, namely the extra mile into the home of a junior high school student to give him a new BMW if he were to consider coming to Washington. All jokes aside, he should be able to take them to the promise land, somewhere they haven’t been since 1999. Doug Wrenn is the most talented scorer in the nation, and despite losing two centers last year, Washington has an experienced team of 6-7″ to 6-9″ players that can compete with anybody in the conference. I have Washington finishing fourth in the conference behind Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. P.S. Doug Wrenn is amazing! Washington has newcomer Mike Jenson (6-8, F), a talented recruit last year who redshirted because of injury. On top of him, Lorenzo Romar made quick news in Washington by getting one of the best recruiting classes in the country. In Bobby Jones (6-6, F), they get a quick, strong forward with a knack for scoring. In Nate Robinson (5-9, G), they get a quick ball handler. In Anthony Washington (6-9, F) they get a blocking machine, though not the brightest (he had to return to high school after being recruited by Cal in 2000). They also are returning redshirt walk-on, now scholarship player Ben Devoe (6-10, C). That’s a big man.
3. UCLA Bruins(19-11, 11-7)
Now that we have gotten back to the top of the list, let’s start on a positive note. UCLA still has the Wizard of Westwood looking after them, and although the faithful don’t like to see Lavin on the sidelines until the big dance, they have learned to live with it. The Pac-10 has been under a lot of scrutiny, and UCLA loves to be the head of the pack. Sophomore Forward Andre Patterson couldn’t get high enough marks in summer school, so he will sit out until winter quarter. Combined with the loss of touted recruit Evan Burns to San Diego State because of academic ineligibilities, UCLA is no longer considered one of the stupidest teams around (that honor goes to San Diego State). UCLA does return a group of sophomores that was regarded as a top ten recruiting class by many observers, but UCLA will be successful only if point guard Cedric Bozeman proves to be the slashing, Kobe-like player that he showed glimpses of against Cincinnati in the tourney last year. Without Gadzuric, the Bruins will not be as strong a rebounding teamâ€¦but neither is the rest of the Pac-10. They return Josiah Johnson, a talented forward who will get more time and is now experienced. Honestly, the Bruins could be a contender, but I put them on the fringe again, perhaps escaping with the fourth or fifth Pac-10 tourney bid. Even though UCLA lost Evan Burns, they did get Michael Fey (6-11, C), Quinn Hawking (6-2, G), Gene Barnes (5-10, G), Ryan Hollins (6-11, C), Mercedes Lewis (6-6, F), Matt McKinney (6-8, F), and Ike Williams (6-2, G). That’s two 7 footers to go with the nationally ranked recruiting class last year. What does that mean, well, there is hope beyond Jason Kapono. If you don’t know about Jason Kapono, then you shouldn’t be reading my article.
2. Oregon Ducks(23-8, 14-4)
Luke this and Luke thatâ€¦with the pre-season almost upon us, there are no two players in the Pac-10 getting more praise then Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson. Ridnour, a mix between the consistency and work ethic of John Stockton and the flashy nature of Jason Williams (Memphis) is perhaps the best point guard in the country now that Jason Williams (Duke) is gone. Jackson, though not flashy, not athletic and not pretty is much like Charles Barkley orâ€¦dare I say it, Mark Madsen. Two starters left the Ducks last year, Freddie Jones and Chris Christoffersen, and they will miss Jones a lot. Mr. Christoffersen was a big fella, but Oregon faithful never saw much in him, and his rebounding left a lot to be desired for a seven-footer. So, what does this years Oregon team look like? The Luke’s are joined by returning players’ Brian Helquist, a scrappy forward, Robert Johnson, a contributing forward, and a couple of 7 foot freshmen in Ian Crosswhite and Matt Short. Their chances are good, but without Jones and an experienced center, they can’t unseat Arizona as the Pac-10 champions. Oregon also has freshmen Brandon Lincoln (6-4, G) and Ernie Kent’s other son Jordan (6-4, G) (Marcus Kent will have to sit out this year due to injury). Lincoln is a nationally ranked guard who can do pretty much anything. Combine this with the two big guys I mentioned earlier and Oregon has a good future, especially with the Luke’s coming back to teach the young-uns for another year.
1. Arizona Wildcats(22-9, 12-6)
Every year, as Southern California natives ditch UCLA and USC for Lute Olsen’s storied school over in Tucson, I think to myself, “What if Arizona had a losing record, would that help So-Cal teams.” Then I realize that Arizona has Will Bynum, Luke Walton, Salim Stoudamire, Jason Gardner, Channing Frye, and Rick Anderson, a combination of players that reminds me of the Fab Five in talent. This combined with another quality recruiting class, and my So-Cal hopes are quickly drowning in their own tears. Even when Arizona has a down year last year, they still find a way to crush USC in the Pac-10 tourney. Oh well, I guess I can find solace in the fact that Mike Bibby will continue to lose to the Lakers. But, back to my point, Arizona is going to crush everyone this year, especially with the less then troublesome non-conference schedule. It’s not until they play Kansas in the middle of the year will Arizona be challenged outside of Pac-10 play. Watch with me as Channing Frye learns that his size allows him to block an average of six shots a game. The freshmen I spoke of earlier are Andre Igoudala (6-6, F), Chris Rodgers (6-3, G), Hassan Adams (6-4, G), and Chris Dunn (6-6, F). These four players would be starters on Pepperdine and all-league players in the Mountain West Conference. Arizona again stole a Los Angeles bred player in Adams, and everyone but Dunn looks to be an important contributor off the bench. Lute Olsen does it again. Hating Arizona is becoming more and more like the rest of the nation hating the Yankees.
All Pac-10 Team:
Coach of the Year:
Freshman of the Year:
And thus it is, and Wooden said it is good. In all my praying over the off-season, I don’t think much changed despite the shift of power in the Pac-10 last year. I still believe UCLA, Arizona, and Stanford are the teams to beat in the conference, despite Oregon’s successes last year. This season won’t be as close or exciting as last year unless two or three teams other then Oregon and Arizona open up the season with big non-conference wins. There is always opportunity there. With a soft non-conference schedule, it looks like a Pac-10 team might be the first team to unseat the Wildcats.