by Joaquin Mesa
Now that Stanford has handed Xavier its hat and Arizona has decimated Western Kentucky, the Pac-10 will take its place in the upper echelons of college basketball lore. Now, my friends will tell you that I say the same thing every year, and then UCLA loses to UC Irvine, and Arizona loses to Connecticut and the whole thing goes to the dogs. This year, however, is going to be the year that the Pac-10 makes its mark on the collective conferences of the NCAA, without embarrassing loses to Mountain West teams and Independents. Each Pac-10 team knows that in order to have a chance of getting into the tournament it must have an amazing non-conference season, as the annual “beat up on each other tournament” begins in January. The non-conference schedule for Pac-10 teams is filled with quality opponents, and there is going to be many opportunities to compare conferences. I’d like to take this opportunity to mull over some of the important heavyweight games coming up; please don’t e-mail me about the lack of Oregon State in the article, they are just awful.
Pac-10 versus Big 12
The Big-12 heavyweights have a lot of opportunity to gain bragging rights against the Pac-10 this year. First, Arizona has big games against Texas and Kansas. Texas, ranked fourth in pre-season polls, does not have a player taller than 6-9, and this will be a problem when they go up against Channing Frye and the strong power forwards that Arizona will throw at them in Walton and Anderson. Texas seriously misses Chris Mihm. Kansas, with the dynamic duo of Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, will match up much better against Arizona. Arizona is working against its ego when it plays these teams, because on paper Arizona is the best team in the country, hands down. Kansas also has the privilege of playing California, UCLA and Oregon. Talk about being given the opportunity to prove something. Kansas can go 4-0 against Pac-10 teams, but in all honesty, it would be lucky to get away with 2-2. USC also gets a chance to play Missouri in the Wooden Classic on Dec. 7 this year, and California might get that same opportunity. When all is said and done, the experience the young Pac-10 players got in the tournament and against each other last year will prove too tough against the Big 12 heavyweights.
Pac-10 versus SEC
The SEC heavyweights don’t get as many opportunities for smack-talking, but they still get shots at mediocre Pac-10 teams. Stanford faces Florida on Wednesday, while Arizona State plays Kentucky and California gets a shot at Georgia in the Wooden Classic, as might USC. Now, Stanford does not return a quality team by any means, and its win against Xavier hopefully has not clouded the collective vision. This is still a team that lost its two star players, and is built around two up and comers in Josh Childress and Julius Barnes. They have a fighting chance against Florida, but it will likely be either a blowout by Florida or a blowout by Stanford (this depending on whether Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson decide to go on an all night drinking binge and come to the game in some sorority chick’s clothes). Arizona State should by all means get spanked by Kentucky, but then two years ago UCLA was supposed to get spanked by Kentucky and they won by one, while USC beat them in the tournament by much more than that. The Wildcats still had Teyshaun Prince when they played in those games, and this year, Arizona State really needs to have big wins outside of conference play because it doesn’t want to be on the bubble again. The California versus Georgia game will be the most exciting game to watch as both teams are scrappers. Tough call on this conference match-up, but I’ve got to go with my beloved Pac-10.
Pac-10 versus West Coast
The Washington schools all meet at least once as Gonzaga takes on Washington State and Washington. Washington should put up a good fight as Lorenzo Romar is trying to bring to Washington what Henry Bibby brought to USC, respect. Washington State won’t even come close to bringing their backpacks. This match-up of conferences will depend on Oregon’s game against Pepperdine. Well, looks like the Pac-10 owns this conference again! Sorry Gonzaga, no more Calvary or Dickau means no more Pac-10 wins.
Oregon’s Tough Schedule
Besides Kansas, Oregon also gets to challenge Conference USA and Cincinnati along with the Big Ten and Minnesota. Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson are anxious to get national attention as their tournament bid last year got them in the national spotlight. They don’t want to end up beyond their five minutes of fame. Oregon should manhandle both of these teams with their fast pace style, but in case they don’t, UCLA gets to pummel Michigan in the Big Ten so the Pac-10 should have dominance over another conference. There will be no Rose Bowl game here.
I didn’t mean to dog on you earlier, brother. You got some quality teams in UNLV and BYU. You get a chance to prove yourselves too, against Arizona State (UNLV,BYU) and Washington (UNLV). If you can win one of these games, I promise not to make fun of you as much. Plus, Wyoming will probably win a laugher at Washington State. Maybe next year you can graduate to the elite of the Pac-10 conference.
UCLA versus Duke
Two years ago Duke knocked UCLA out of the tournament, then proceeded to knock out USC. On behalf of Los Angeles, I’d like to wish UCLA well. I’m putting aside my differences as a USC fan and cheering UCLA on. Any team from the Carolinas I would like to see defeated, and this isn’t only because USC has been knocked out twice in the last two years by a Carolina team. That would be too easy. It’s also because I couldn’t stand Grant Hill and Christian Laettner.
This all being said, the Pac-10 also gets chances against Utah (Arizona State), Georgetown (UCLA), Yale (USC), UCSB (California/USC), Rhode Island (USC), La Salle (USC), St. Johns (UCLA) and Cal State Northridge (Washington State). No doubt, people will be talking about the quality wins the Pac-10 conference puts up at the end of the year. And, if not for the East Coast bias, a team or two might get a chance to play in the West Coast bracket of the tournament. But, that’s another article.