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Pac-10 Conference Preview

November 5, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Pac-10 Conference Preview

by Scott Allen

Some of the best playmakers in the Pac-10 of the past few years are gone, but there’s no shortage of talent ready to make the jump from menacing puppies to top dogs this season. Luke Ridnour, Jason Gardner, Luke Walton, Jason Kapono and Joe Shipp have given way to the likes of Luke Jackson, Channing Frye, Amit Tamir and Ike Diogu.

Despite losing three starters, Arizona remains the favorite to repeat as conference champions. Stanford and Oregon must replace their leading scorers but both teams have enough returning veterans to challenge the Wildcats for the top spot. USC could make the biggest turnaround from last season when they finished 6-12 in conference as the Trojans return all five starters. Arizona State could sink back towards the bottom of the standings after losing three starters, but Ike Diogu will single-handedly assure that the Sun Devils will be competitive. The loss of Joe Shipp and Brian Wethers puts a lot of pressure on Cal’s Amit Tamir to carry the team to another NCAA tournament. Washington was a better team than their 5-13 conference record indicated and the Huskies have high hopes heading into their second season under head coach Lorenzo Romar.

Speaking of coaches, while Bill Self and Roy Williams got most of the hype during the offseason, the Pac-10 welcomes two top-notch coaches to the conference this season. Ben Howland will try to rebuild UCLA into a title contender and Dick Bennett has the even tougher task of digging Washington State out of the conference cellar. Both teams should be improved this season, but the Bruins have a ways to go before they’re considered among the conference’s elite and the Cougars could find themselves fighting for a spot in the Pac-10 tournament once again. Oregon State rounds out the conference and it’s hard to believe the Beavers will improve on last year’s 13 wins after losing all-conference center Philip Ricci and three other starters.

All-Conference Preseason Team
Channing Frye, F, Arizona
Amit Tamir, F, Cal
Luke Jackson, F, Oregon
Josh Childress, F, Stanford
Ike Diogu, C, Arizona State

Honorable Mention
Marcus Moore, G, Washington State
Desmon Farmer, G, USC
Andre Iguodola, F, Arizona

Pac-10 Player of the Year
Ike Diogu

Freshman of the Year
Mustafa Shakur

Arizona Wildcats, 24-8 overall, 17-1 Pac-10 (1st)

Projected Starting Five:
G – Mustafa Shakur
G – Salim Stoudamire
F – Andre Iguodala
F – Hassan Adams
C – Channing Frye

Key Losses:
Jason Gardner, Luke Walton, Rick Anderson

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out:
Once highly touted recruit Dennis Latimore transferred to Notre Dame where he’ll be eligible to play next season.

Must Step Up:
Frye. With Walton and Anderson gone, the soft-spoken junior is the team’s most experienced scorer down low. His adjustment to what should be a more up-tempo offense this season will be a major factor in just how far Arizona can go.

Impact Freshman:
Shakur. Apparently the steady flow of point guards leads to Tucson. Wildcat coaches and fans have compared the Pennsylvania product to Jason Terry.

Circle the Dates:
Nov. 28 vs. Florida: Two title contenders meet in Springfield, Mass.
Dec. 9 vs. Texas: Texas is out for revenge after last year.
Jan. 10 vs. Stanford: The ‘Cats look to avenge their only conference loss last season.

The late Tupac Shakur rapped about making changes. Mustafa Shakur is part of the changes at Arizona this season. Even with three senior starters gone from last year’s Elite Eight team, Shakur, who will replace Jason Gardner at point guard, will help make sure that despite all the changes, winning will remain the trend in Tucson. Head coach Lute Olson has marveled at the 6-3 Shakur’s ability to push the ball up the floor quickly in practice. While he’ll likely be Arizona’s playmaker, he’ll have plenty of potential finishers to get the ball to, including wing man Andre Iguodola, Salim Stoudamire, Channing Frye and Hassan Adams.

Frye, who shot .569 from the floor and averaged 12.6 points and 8 rebounds in his sophomore season, has beefed up to 250 pounds over the summer according to Olson. Arizona will be a much quicker team this season and will likely showcase a four guard perimeter-based offense that could free Frye up to make an even bigger impact this season. Experienced junior 6-9 forward Isaiah Fox will provide more help down low, as will freshman center Kirk Walters. The Wildcats should be an exciting team to watch-unless you’re sitting on the opposing bench.

Stanford Cardinal, 24-9 overall, 14-4 Pac-10 (2nd)

Projected Starting Five:
G- Chris Hernandez
G- Matt Lottich
F- Josh Childress
F- Justin Davis
C- Rob Little

Key Loss:
Julius Barnes

Must Step Up:
Little. His 6-10, 275-pound frame should strike fear in the hearts of defenders but for the greater part of two seasons, he’s been more of a Teddy Bear than a Grizzly under the hoop.

Impact Freshman:
Evan Moore. The Cardinal felt the loss of Teyo Johnson after he decided to give up basketball and declare for the NFL Draft last year. This fellow two-sport athlete should fill in nicely down low when he joins the team in November.

Injury Watch:
Point guard Chris Hernandez returns from a foot injury that kept him out of action last season.

Circle the Date:
Dec. 6 vs. Kansas (Wooden Classic): Montgomery matches wits with Self.

The Cardinal proved skeptics wrong last season, riding momentum from an early run in the Preseason NIT all the way to a second-place conference finish and an NCAA bid. But could you really blame the doubters? After all, it was an underachieving Stanford team that got blown out by Kansas in the second round of the tournament and lost Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt to the NBA Draft.

With preseason expectations higher once again, the Cardinal won’t sneak up on anyone this year. Despite losing high-flying guard Julius Barnes, Mike Montgomery returns an experienced and battle-tested bunch that is poised to challenge Arizona for the conference crown. Senior Matt Lottich came out of nowhere last season to emerge as a legitimate 3-point threat and Josh Childress (14.1 points, 8.1 rebounds per game) grew into his role as the team’s premier playmaker. Senior forward Justin Davis (10.8 points, 7.3 rebounds per game) can dominate the inside when he stays out of foul trouble, as Little and sophomore Matt Haryasz provide depth down low.

The biggest news for the Cardinal is the return of point guard Chris Hernandez from a foot injury. Hernandez had a promising freshman campaign and his absence was felt last season with Barnes forced to share point guard duties with freshman Jason Haas. With a year under his belt, Haas can spell Hernandez off the deep Cardinal bench.

USC Trojans, 13-17 overall, 6-12 Pac-10 (T-6th)

Projected Starting Five:
G – Errick Craven
G – Derrick Craven
F – Desmon Farmer
F – Roydell Smiley
C – Rory O’Neill

Key Losses:

Must Step Up:
Derrick Craven. His 70 assists were good for second on the team last season, but he also had 72 turnovers.

Impact Freshman:
Quinton Day. Averaged 20.2 points, 5 rebounds and 6 steals as a senior at Paseo Academy in Kansas City. His speed, quick hands make him a perfect fit for a team that will be looking to run.

Injury Watch:
Roydell Smiley broke his leg in USC’s final game last season but should be ready for the season opener.

Circle the Dates:
Nov. 21 at Western Michigan: Trojans were 3-9 away from home last year. They can begin to buck that trend from the start with a win in Kalamazoo.
Dec. 13 at BYU: This is as tough as it gets for USC before the Pac-10 season.

Do more twins mean more wins? USC hopes so. While the Trojans may not necessarily give opposing teams nightmares, they can rest assured that this year’s squad will keep television and radio announcers up at night. Junior twin guards Errick and Derrick Craven will be joined by freshmen twin guards Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart, but with all five starters returning, it’s unlikely the foursome would be on the court at the same time. Phew. That’s not to say the Trojans won’t occasionally implement a four-guard offense, with the likes of senior Desmon Farmer (18.7 points per game) to finish off the fast break.

Much like Arizona, the Trojans are a guard-heavy team with the ability to press on defense and push it on offense with the best of ’em. 6-11 junior Rory O’Neil (10.1 points, 4.9 rebounds per game) provides scoring inside while junior forward Nick Curtis helps on the glass. The Trojans showed glimpses of their potential in last year’s Pac-10 tournament and with their top six scorers back, this year’s team could put together a successful season and reach the NCAA tournament not much unlike an experienced Arizona State team did last year.

Oregon Ducks, 23-10 overall, 10-8 Pac-10 (5th)

Projected Starting Five:
G – Aaron Brooks
G – Andre Joseph
F – Luke Jackson
F – Ian Crosswhite
C – Jay Anderson

Key Losses:
Luke Ridnour, Robert Johnson, Brian Helquist

Must Step Up:
Joseph. The Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year averaged 9.3 points and 3 rebounds per game last season will be relied upon to score more with Ridnour gone.

Impact Freshman:
Brooks. He’s got big, quick shoes to fill, but this McDonald’s All-American has the handles to do so.

Circle the Dates:
Dec. 13 vs. Kansas (in Kansas City): It’s always a shootout when these two teams meet.
Dec. 20 vs. Alabama (Las Vegas Showdown)

Oregon must replace its leading scorer for the third consecutive season. Yes, the Ducks recovered nicely from the loss of Bryan Bracey and Frederick Jones each of the past two seasons, winning the Pac-10 title outright in 2001-2002 and winning the Pac-10 tournament last year. But Luke Ridnour was more than the team’s leading scorer. In addition to the 19.7 points per game he put on the scoreboard, Ridnour dished out 6.6 assists per contest and was the ultimate floor general. That said, this is by no means a rebuilding year for the Ducks.

While his mop-topped friend of the same name is gone, Luke Jackson could probably carry this team on his back towards an NCAA bid. The All-American candidate averaged 16 points and 6.9 rebounds to go along with 3.6 assists per game last season. Add three-point specialist James Davis, Andre Joseph and promising second-year center Ian Crosswhite to the mix, and Oregon has a solid core of contributors from the outside and down low. Aaron Brooks won’t make the fans in Eugene forget about Ridnour right away, but the future of Ernie Kent’s program remains in good hands. Anything short of another NCAA bid would likely be considered a disappointment for the Ducks.

California Golden Bears, 22-9 overall, 13-5 Pac-10 (3rd)

Projected Starting Five:
G – Ayinde Ubaka
G – Richard Midgley
F – Leon Powe
F – Amit Tamir
C – Gabriel Hughes

Key Losses:
Joe Shipp, Brian Wethers

Must Step Up:
Midgley. Will likely move to shooting guard to make way for Ubaka to run the point.

Impact Freshmen:
Powe and Ubaka, both Oakland products, will see time right away.

Circle the Dates:
Nov. 26 vs. BYU
Dec. 20 vs. St. Joe’s – Ubaka gets his first huge test against Jameer Nelson.

Any debate over who the best player in Berkeley is officially ended with the departure of Joe Shipp. Everything will revolve around junior forward Amit Tamir this year after he averaged 14.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season. His supporting cast is just strong enough to keep the Bears in the top half of the Pac-10. Richard Midgley will have to help fill the scoring void left by Shipp and Wethers (35.5 points per game) and senior center Gabriel Hughes is a strong inside presence.

Whether Cal can make a push for an NCAA bid depends a lot on its freshman. With his size, the 6-8, 230-pound Powe will probably have greater success early as Ubaka gets comfortable running the point at the college level. A fourth-straight 20-win season for Ben Braun is not out of the question, but Tamir cannot get it done alone.

UCLA Bruins, 10-19 overall, 6-12 Pac-10 (T-6th)

Projected Starting Five:
G – Ryan Walcott
G – Cedric Bozeman
F – Janou Rubin
F – Dijon Thompson
C – Ryan Hollins

Key Losses:
Jason Kapono, Ryan Young

Must Step Up:
Thompson. With Kapono gone, his 14 points per game must, and should, go up.

Impact Freshman:
Trevor Ariza. With T.J. Cummings academically ineligible for the first semester, he’ll have opportunity to contribute right away.

Coaching Change:
Exit Steve Lavin. Enter Ben Howland.

Circle the Dates:
Dec. 6 vs. Kentucky (in Anaheim): Bruins get their first real test under Howland.
Dec. 20 vs. Michigan State: Preseason Final Four favorite comes to Pauley.
Feb. 28 vs. Notre Dame: Some history involved here. Just a tad.

The good news is that the Ben Howland era is beginning in Westwood. The bad news is that the remnants of the Steve Lavin era remain. The Bruins have a good deal of talent, even with the loss of Jason Kapono, but unfortunately they’ve also got their fair share of underachievers and head cases. Dijon Thompson is arguably the best player on the roster and Cedric Bozeman found success last season after Lavin finally abandoned attempts to turn him into a point guard. Sophomore center Ryan Hollins could develop into a scoring threat down low.

As for the head cases, Andrae Patterson flunked out of school at the end of the season and senior T.J. Cummings (10.3 points per game) has been declared academically ineligible for the first semester. If Howland could turn Pittsburgh into a national contender, there’s no reason to think he can’t restore the winning tradition at UCLA. But first, he’s got to deal with picking up the pieces Lavin left behind. If the players buy into his program from the start, UCLA will be a dangerous team to play come the Pac-10 season.

Washington Huskies, 10-17 overall, 5-13 Pac-10 (9th)

Projected Starting Five:
G – Nate Robinson
G – Brandon Roy
F – Will Conroy
F – Hakeem Rollins
C – Anthony Washington

Key Losses:
Doug Wrenn

Must Step Up:
Rollins. JuCo transfer provides much-needed bulky body.

Impact Freshman:
Hans Gesser. In-state product has skills but minutes might be limited.

Circle the Dates:
Dec. 3 vs. Gonzaga
Feb. 22 at North Carolina State

Head coach Lorenzo Romar did an admirable job in his first year at the helm of the Huskies last season. Washington returns seven of its top nine scorers, led by sophomore guard Nate Robinson (13.0 points per game), who along with junior Will Conroy (12.7 points) formed one of the strongest backcourts in the conference last season. For as good as their perimeter players are, the closest thing the Huskies had to a three-point threat was Curtis Allen (37.7 % from beyond the arc).

Like last year, the Huskies biggest concern is establishing some semblance of an inside game. Romar added junior college transfer Hakeem Rollins and freshman Hans Gesser to help alleviate the problem. The Huskies must also play better on the road (2-10 last season) if they’re to move up in the Pac-10 standings and possibly challenge for an NIT bid. A 12-win season, which would be an improvement on the last four years, is certainly within reach.

Arizona State Sun Devils, 20-12 overall, 11-7 Pac-10 (4th)

Projected Starting Five:
G – Kenny Crandall
G – Jason Braxton
F – Jamal Hill
F – Justin Allen
C – Ike Diogu

Key Losses:
Tommy Smith, Shawn Redhage, Curtis Millage, Kyle Dodd

Must Step Up:
Braxton. Needs to improve on his 4.6 points per game of a year ago.

Impact Freshman:
Tron Smith. A high school teammate of Braxton, this highly touted recruit will compete for minutes at guard with fellow freshman Steve Moore.

Circle the Dates:
Dec. 9 vs. Temple

I like Ike. You like Ike. Everyone likes Ike. Sophomore Ike Diogu averaged 19 points and 7.8 rebounds as a freshman last season and was a huge reason Rob Evans’ squad won 20 games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Without Curtis Millage, Tommy Smith and Shawn Redhage, however, the Sun Devils are short on experience and proven scoring.

Along with Diogu, Braxton and Crandall comprise the core of Arizona State’s squad, with a number of role players and freshman competing for minutes. Whether or not someone emerges as a scoring threat from the outside to complement Diogu and take pressure of the big guy will be the difference in finishing in the top or bottom half of the conference standings.

Washington State Cougars, 7-20 overall, 2-16 Pac-10 (10th)

Projected Starting Five:
G – Marcus Moore
G – Thomas Kelati
F – Chris Schlatter
F – Shami Gill
C – Ezenwa Ukeagu

Key Losses:

Must Step Up:
Ukeagu. Can’t allow himself to be pushed around by the rest of the conference’s big men this season in Bennett’s defensive system.

Impact Freshman:
Lance Den Boer.

Coaching Change:
Exit Paul Graham. Enter Dick Bennett.

Circle the Dates:
Dec. 28 at Gonzaga

That sigh of relief you heard back in June was Dick Bennett upon hearing that guard Marcus Moore was returning for his senior season in Pullman. Moore averaged 18.2 points per game last season and should remain the focal point in Bennett’s complex screen-filled offense. Returning starter Thomas Kelati, who led the Pac-10 in 3-point shooting (45.6%), should find plenty of open looks in Bennett’s system.

Beyond those two, the Cougars lack playmakers. Forward Chris Schlatter (7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds per game) anchors a weak frontline. Junior college transfers Justin Garcia and Jeff Varem will likely find themselves in the mix for minutes at center, along with senior Ezenwa Ukeagu, whose 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season were less than spectacular. With Bennett at the helm, the future is bright in Pullman, but don’t expect a drastic turnaround this season.

Oregon State Beavers, 13-15 overall, 6-12 Pac-10 (T-6th)

Projected Starting Five:
G – Lamar Hurd
G – J.S. Nash
F – David Lucas
F – Derek Potter
C – Kevin Field

Key Losses:
Philip Ricci, Brian Jackson, Jimmy Haywood

Must Step Up:
Lamar Hurd. He’s become the team leader by default.

Impact Freshman:
Liam Hughes. He’s got the size (7-2, 260) and it won’t take much to make an impact on this team.

Circle the Date:
Dec. 15 at Hawaii-Going from Corvallis to Honolulu, the players won’t want to return.

The only returning starter for the Beavers is sophomore Lamar Hurd. That about sums up the outlook for second-year head coach John Jay and his squad. Hurd saw plenty of minutes last season at the point, averaging 6.4 points, but this team might not compete with Gary Payton running the show because there just aren’t any proven scorers to pass too. The Beavers averaged 68 points per game last season, lowest in the Pac-10, and lost their top three scorers. As a result, Hurd will have to taken on a greater scoring role and hope that returning forwards Derek Potter and David Lucas can help offset the loss of Ricci.

Is another sixth place finish asking too much? Most likely. With an unproven starting five and lack of a go-to-guy, the Beavers will be lucky to get to 10 wins.


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