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PAC-10 Preview

PAC-10 Basketball Outlook: 2009-2010

Despite the prognostications that the PAc-10 would have down years the past two season, six teams have earned NCAA Tournament bids each season, and have combined for three Sweet-16 finishes and one Final Four appearance.

But thanks to a mass exodus of talent (27 NBA draftees in three seasons), the four season streak of 60% of the conference in the NCAA tournament is in jeopardy, and it appears that the pundits prognostications will prove that the third time truly is a charm.

The biggest reason why the PAC-10 could suffer a down year isbecause of their youth and lack of qaulity veteran players. The PAC-10 lost ten players to the NBA draft in 2009, seven of which were first-round picks. If that’s not bad enough, only two All-PAC -10 players (Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle) return for a 2010 encore. Don’t take a down year for the PAC-10 to mean they won’t be competitive, however – afterall, this isn’t a “down year” in C-USA.

With a large influx of young talent, including four Top-25 recruiting classes (UCLA, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon State) according to both Rivals.com and Scout.com, the PAC-10 as a whole is staving off the rebuilding process.

In the conference, only three teams can be considered to be on the rise though, while four teams have taken a steps back, with the remaining three managing to stay stagnant.

If the player changes aren’t enough to cause some concern for a lull in the overall performance of the conference, the coaching changes should. The conference continues to get its coaching make-over with three new coaches taking the sidelines this year, bringing the total to half the league in the past two seasons.

With all the changes occuring during the off-season, the conference will likely get off to a bumpy start, and fans everywhere will have to withhold judgement until the end of he season when the obstacles of coaching changes, and inexperience will have all been overcome.

The biggest key to be aware of in the conference is what team can get solid frontcourt play. If any team gets surprising dominance in their frontcourt, they could have a fast-track to the top of the conference since there is but a select few quality true big men in the PAC-10.

Coaching Changes

Arizona – It was an unfortunate end to a well respected and endeared coach, but it had to happen sometime. Arizona improves their situation as they were finally able to go away from the interim coaches and bring in Sean Miller. They dodged more than one bullet in the process though.

Washington State – The final day for Bennett in Pullman was rumored to have been on the horizon for over a year before he finally departed. His presence will be sorely missed by the Cougars, who managed to hire a solid replacement in Ken Bone. Unfortunately, the transitio nwill take a few years before the Cougars could become truly competitive again.

USC – The biggest losers in all of the off-season changes weren’t spared changes at coach either. Scandal, or rumor of one at the very least ran off Tim Floyd. To replace him they brought in the ever-wandering Kevin O’Neill who has limited success anywhere he goes.

Pre-Season Predictions

Standings

Team (Projected conference record) – compared to 08-09

  1. CAL (16-2) – Stagnant
  2. Washington (14-4) – Stagnant
  3. UCLA (12-6) – On the decline
  4. Arizona (11-7) – On the rise
  5. Oregon (10-8) – On the rise
  6. Oregon State (9-9) – On the rise
  7. Arizona State (6-12) – On the decline
  8. Washington State (5-13) – On the decline
  9. USC (4-14) – On the decline
  10. Stanford (2-16) – Stagnant

Player of the Year: Jerome Randle

Freshman of the Year: Abdul Gaddy

First-Team All-PAC-10                  All-Freshman Team

PG-Patrick Christopher  (CAL)         PG-Abdul Gaddy
SG-Jerome Randle  (CAL)                   SG-Trent Lockett
SF-Quincy Pondexter (UW)               SF-Tyler Honeycutt (UCLA)
PF-Joevan Catron (OU)                       PF-Reeves Nelson (UCLA)
C-Michael Dunigan (OU)                      C-Kyryl Natyazhko (UofA

Team by Team

Arizona Wildcats

Projected Finish: Home 6-3, Away 5-4, NCAA Tournament

The Big Question: Can the ‘Cats overcome the adjustment to their third coach in as many seasons, and in the process get impact play from former role palyers and incoming freshman to make it to their 26th consecutive NCAA Tournament?

Key Departures: Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, Zane Johnson
Key Additions: Kyryl Natyazhko, Solomon Hill, Lamont “MoMo” Jones

The priority for the Wildcats this year isn’t the NCAA Tournament – at least that’s what Coach Miller will say. I know it sounds wierd, but he’s actually right. The Wildcats will look bumpy in the early goings as they turn to Jamelle Horne, Kyle Fogg, and a strong recruiting class to fill more than the void left by the departures of Hill and Budinger.

With a new coach in Miller and  versatile backcourt, the ‘Cats have th epieces in order to make ap ush for their 26th straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Of course, that depends on if Nic Wise decides to trust his teammates and showcase his decision making abilities instead of trying to get deep in the paint where he becomes turnover happy.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Projected Finish: Home 4-5, Away 2-7, None

The Big Question: Can the Sun Devils compensate for the loss of Harden and Pendergraph with a turn-around performance by Eric Boateng and a Freshman of the Year type performance from Trent Lockett?

Key Departures: James Harden, Jeff Pendergraph
Key Arrivals: Trent Lockett, Victor Rudd

This is going to be a grueling year for the Sun Devils who look to Rihards Kuksiks and Derek Glasser to be their “to-go'” guys. They still have talent and will be a steady-handed team with Glasser at the helm. But with the combination of athletics and talent failing to combine in one player, the Sun Devils will be looking to rebuild.

Sendek is a solid coach who will instill a game plan that pulls the advantage towards his players, so the Sun Devils will be in a lot of games even if they can’t close them out.

California Golden Bears

Projected Finish: Home 7-1, Away 7-1, NCAA Tournament

The Big Question: With no major changes to their lineup, can the Golden Bears rely on their experience and depth to avoid a late-season collapse circa ’08-’09, propelling them to the top of the conference in Mike Montgomerey’s second season in Berkeley?

Key Departures: None
Key Arrivals: None

When Patrick Christopher opted to stay in school, keeping the best 3-point shooting backcourt intact, the Golden Bears became an almost instant lock for one of the top two spots in the conference.

With more experience, look for guards D.J. Seeley and others to make greater impact as CAl avoids a late-season meltdown and cruisies their way through the conference and into the NCAA Tournament.

Oregon Ducks

Projected Finish Home 6-3, Away 4-5, NIT

The Big Question: Can Kent capitalize on the young talent in Eugene and restoring the Ducks to contention and save his job with one of the greatest single-season turnarounds?

Key Departures: Franz Dorsainvill
Key Additions: Jamil Wilson, E.J. Singler

Last year was an aberratio nfor a team with as much talent as the Ducks had on their roster – at least Ernie Kent hopes so. With players like Michael Dunigan, Joevan Catron, and Tejuan Porter the Ducks have too much talent to suffer like they did last year.

The main argument for another down-year is that losing, just like winning, becomes a habit. Lazy and carless play riddled the Ducks a season ago, but with Mike Dunlap courtside, the Ducks should be more disciplined – especially on the defensive end.

Oregon State Beavers

Projected Finish: Home 4-5, Away 5-4, NIT

The Big Question: After making significant strides last year, can the Beavers continue to surprise this season by jumping into the top five of the conference with addition of a Top-25 recruiting class?

Key Departures: Rickey Claitt
Key Arrivals: Roberto Nelson, Jared Cunning Ham

With how OSU has turned around in just one season under Craig Robinson, it is no wonder there is a strong recruiting pull in Corvallis now – being the POTUS’ brother-in-law aside.

After returning the majority of his roster from a season ago, and adding a Top-15 recruiting class, Robinson will look to push the tempo a little more tihs season as the Beavers are becoming continually more versatile under his watch.

Stanford Cardinal

Projected Finish Home 2-7, Away 0-9, None

The Big Question: Can the cardinal take a step in the right direction despite losing three of their five starters and a key bench player, or will they continue to suffer heavily for another year?

Key Departures: Kenny Brown, Anthony Goods, Lawrence Hill, Mitch Johnson
Key Additions: Gabriel Harris, Andrew Zimmerman

If the below-average season for the Cardinal wasn’t bad enough last season, things are going to ge a whole lot worse as the Caridnal lost a majority of their starting lineup from a year ago and turn to a Santa Clara cast-off and role players to fill that gaping hole.

Barring the surprise development of a below-average role player to elite status, the Cardinal rely entirely on Landy Fields. Despite the conference being weaker than it has bene in recent memory, Fields isn’t capable of carrying the Cardinal past most of the teams in the conference.

UCLA Bruins

Projected Finish: Home 6-3, Away 6-3

The Big Question: Can the freshman and role players from the past two years turn the Bruins into a serious conteder again this year, or will they be like seven of the other teams looking for table scraps after Cal and UW have cleared through?

Key Departures: Alfred Aboya, Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Jrue Holiday, James Diefenbach
Key Arrivals: Tyler Honeycutt, Brendan Lane, Mike Moser, Nelson Reeves, Anthony Stover

The Bruins lost too much to the draft and graduation this past off-season not to suffer a set back. Originally I didn’t expect the setback to be too severe, considering that players like Malcolm Lee and Michael Roll were capable of starting on most teams a year ago. Combine that with a Top-25 recruiting class and it appears the Bruins should be right back near the top again.

But the more I think about it, the less certain I am. Especially with the loss of 47.3 ppg, and 15.7 rpg.  That’s 62% of their scoring power, and 43% of their rebounding. In addition, the Bruins are now deprived of their veteren point guard and center and a constant playe-maker in Jrue Holiday. That’s just too much to compensate for in just one season.

In the end, the Bruins are still one of the top five teams in the conference, but rather than fighting to be one or two, they’ll be fighting to be anywhere from third to sixth.

USC Trojans

Projected Finish: Home 4-5, Away 0-9, None

The Big Question: It’s not really if, but how far will the Trojans fall without a premier freshman on the wing and no threat to speak of inside the paint.

Key Departures: Tim Floyd, DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson, Daniel Hackett, Terence Green, Marcus Johnson, Keith Wilkinson, Their entire 2009 recruiting class
Key Arrivals: Kevin O’Neill – wow, that’s sad when he isn’t just a key arrival, but the only key arrival.

Gone are four of five starters, Time Floyd, ever-changing defenses and just about everything else that made the Trojans a force to be reckoned with last season. With O’Neill at the helm, the Trojans will be strictly a man-to-man defensive team that struggles with the few remnants left in the cupobard after a fall out of one of the worst scandals in recent recruiting.

they still have some talent left that is capable of an upset win or two, but don’t expect anything to come on the road as the Trojans don’t have the talent or power to outcoach or outplay anybody away from the Galen Center.

The Trojans mirror the Cardinal with one primary go-to guy in Dwight Lewis. But it’s going to be abumpy road for the Trojans this season, especially with NCAA sanctions looming in the near future.

Washington Huskies

Projected Finish: Home 7-2, Away 7-2, NCAA Tournament

The Big Question: Can the Huskies get enough production out of their frontcourt to overcome the Golden bears for a top spot in the conference or will the loss of Brockman be too much?

Key Departures: Jon Brockman, Justin Dentmon, Artem Wallace
Key Additions: Abdul Gaddy, Charles Garcia, Clarence Trent, C.J. Wilcox

Abdul Gaddy was a heck of a pick up for Lorezno Romar who will have one of the best backcourts in the conference, if not the nation. The problem the Huskies face is their lack of aproven post player following the departure of Jon Brockman. Matthew Bryan-Amaning is solid, but has not bee relied upon heavily thus far. Bryan-Amaning has been solid in the role he has filled, and should be a confident pick for break-out player of the year with a more prominant role, but there will still be some drop-off.

The Huskies will be good and are the second-most picked team to win the conference. But the decline in the post presence, and less experience will leave them getting passed up by the Golden Bears for top honors.

Washington State Cougars

Projected Finish: Home 2-7, Away 3-6

The Big Question: Can Ken Bone capitalize on players like Klay Thompson to make this team a viable running team and prevent the Cougars from falling into the 8-10 spots in the conference?

Key Departures: Tony Bennet, Aron Baynes, Caleb Forrest, Daven Harmeling, Taylor Rochestie
Key Arrivals: Xavier Thames, Anthony Brown, Reggie Moore

Klay Thompson will fit nicely into the up-tempo pace that former Portland State coach Ken Bone will bring to Pullman, WA. Unfortunately, the Cougars have lost three signicant contributors from their team last year. While they did bring in a few nice recruits, they aren’t the caliber of players that have thee capability to compensate for the loss of players like Taylor Rochestie.

The loss of Bennett is huge, but the Cougars will rebound under Bone. It will be interesting to see how the old-style PAC-10 run-n-gun will play out with a majority of the teams switching to a defense-minded attack with emphasis on quality small forwards.

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PAC-10 Power Rankings: Week 8

 

Despite four of the top five teams taking losses this week, there is no movement in the top of the conference. It looks to me like there won’t be much more movement amongst these teams the rest of the way out. Could be a few position switches (ASU/UW for example), but I wouldn’t expect anymore 2-spot jumps or drops the rest of the way out.

 

  1. Arizona State (E) – They’ve won five straight including wins over UCLA, USC, and breaking Arizona’s 7-game win streak. They’ll be tough to stop from here on out.
  2. Washington (E) – Despite the loss to UCLA last week, they’re still in sole possession (by a half game) of the best conference record and have a chance to separate themselves further with ASU coming to town this weekend.
  3. UCLA (E) – Defeating Washington at home was nice, but the Bruins are struggling and a home loss against Washington State shows it. They’re falling fast and I wonder if Ben Howland can turn ‘em back around.
  4. Arizona (E) – A two-point loss to Arizona State on the road is nothing to frown upon. They’ve been playing well over the past four weeks and are still one of the hottest teams in the conference.
  5. CAL (E) – A loss to Oregon State isn’t as bad as we thought, but CAL has suffered that fate twice this year. They’re in the same boat as UCLA with the wheels starting to come off down the stretch.
  6. Oregon State (+2) – A season sweep of CAL and a winning record against the bottom half of the conference earns them this spot. Imagine what they could do with USC type of talent.
  7. USC (-1)  The Trojans have struggled all year long, but it keeps getting worse. They haven’t won back-to-back games in the past four weeks. They’ve fallen apart in the second half of conference play.
  8. Washington State(+1)  That was a nice win for the Cougars over UCLA this week – and on the road no less. Could they finally be gelling as a team and producing at the level we’ve become accustomed to with Bennett Ball the past few years or was this simply a flash in the pan?
  9. Stanford (-2)– Okay, I admit it… I screwed up on these guys last week. They drop not just because of their loss to Oregon, but lets face it – their frontcourt is non-existent and their backcourt is average at best. They haven’t won two games in a week since before conference play began.
  10. Oregon (E)– The Ducks have been in the basement of the PAC-10 Power Rankings almost all season long. Unfortunately the only way out of it is to sweep their final three games and have Stanford get swept. Is Ernie Kent on the way out?

PAC-10 Power Rankings: Week 7

I’ve shaken things up a lot this week, but things are anything but settled. With the regular season conference title still within reach for the top five teams, and plenty of match-ups remaining amongst them, the top spot is anything but settled. Arizona State holds the spot for now after earning a regular season sweep of the Bruins. Cal dropped three spots despite a win in their sole game of the week – largely because they are being out-performed by the other four schools right now.

 

  1. ASU (+3) – The Sun Devils and Herb Sendek apparently have UCLA’s number this year and have a regular-season sweep of the Bruins. They may not be the better team, but head-to-head the Sun Devils get the nod.
  2. Washington (+1)– With the best record in the conference and a sweep over the Oregon school, the Huskies could very well be in the top spot, but a tough four game stretch ahead (@LA schools, vs. Arizona schools) They’ve got one of the toughest remaining schedules in the conference.
  3. UCLA (-2)– The Bruins took a big drop this week, and fell to their lowest point in the rankings this season after they got swept in the desert. UCLA was expected to run away with the conference this year, but they’re in a huge dog fight for the top spot now with a Thursday match-up against the league leading Huskies. Continue reading ‘PAC-10 Power Rankings: Week 7’

Future of the Program: Part II

Recruiting

 

Despite the fact that Arizona is currently on a 5-game winning streak, I’m still taking a break from focusing on the current season to looking ahead to the intriguing possibilities that will play out during the off-season. Last week I talked about the fact that whoever Olson’s successor is, they will need to possess a program first mentality. Otherwise more than just the style of play will be transformed at Arizona.

 

 Under Lute Olson, the program has been a family organization with the focus on the players’ development and the program’s success. Olson avoided recruiting players who were out to serve their own needs, and who were going along with their own agenda before the programs. The result has been a classy program that has thrived at the top of the conference for nearly 25 years thanks to Olson’s savvy recruiting combined with only taking players who are there to play for the program.

 

If a coach fails to integrate the “team first” mentality into his recruiting, I fear that Arizona will no longer be the dominant program it has been, but will transform into an average program similar to ASU or USC. A program with more average years than down years, and more down years than great years. For that reason, I believe the second most important facet of a new coach will be their recruiting.

 

How and who the new coach recruits will be an early indicator about the long-term outlook for the program. When a coach strictly focuses on recruiting the top tier prospects, the program becomes a mere stepping stone for the NBA – as USC has become. The play of these top-tier recruits almost ensures that the team will be competitive within their conference, and perhaps even on a national level, but landing a top tier recruit and building a team around them year-in and year-out is a sure ticket towards inconsistency.

 

That isn’t to say that signing the big-name recruit doesn’t have its place – they certainly have their impact and place within the scheme of the program. Afterall, if a coach strictly recruited mid-level prospects, they would find themselves in a position like Washington State – too heavily reliant upon exploiting opponents’ mistakes. 

 

Successful recruiting is a mix of mid-level talent and top-tier prospects.

Successful recruiting is a mix of mid-level talent and top-tier prospects.

Clearly the better recruiters in the nation have found a solid mix of top-tier and middle-tier players which has led to perpetual success with no “rebuilding” years like the one Oregon is currently suffering through. This mix of mid-level and top tier recruits is an absolute must-have to building a consistent, competitive team – a tradition at Arizona that I hope to see continued. Finding the appropriate mix has more to do with the needs of the team and the personality of the players than it does how many of the top tier vs. middle-tier players which are recruited.

 

 

 

I, for one, firmly believe that the most vital aspect of recruiting is finding the mid-level players with a lot of potential or that have been undervalued. Some of the more notable players at Arizona – Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Gilbert Arenas, and Jordan Hill – have come from this group of prospects. There have also been solid role players – A.J. Bramlett, Bennett Davison to name two of the more prominent ones – that simply got the job done and made an impact for the team.

 

By focusing on these mid-level prospects the coach will have recruited at the worst a solid bench and group of role players, and at the best a few surprise players who develop into future stars. Best-case scenario and worst-case scenario aside one thing is certain, drawing out the best talent in the middle tier of prospects while signing a top tier recruit or two every few years will lead to consistency within the program.

 

In direct regards to the situation at Arizona, the right coach will be capable of staving off a rebuilding effort and accomplish a transition period instead. With a rebuilding effort the entire program will essentially be scrapped and in the basement before it is restored. Considering Arizona’s consecutive NCAA Tournament streak is still active, the ’08-’09 ‘Cats are making a strong second half push, and Arizona has some surprise players, I don’t think this will be the route we take. A transition, will simply change the style and pinache’ of the team. There will be a down year or two as the new coach recruits the players to fit their game plan and builds the new traditions, but it will be more about building upon than rebuilding. 

PAC-10 Power Rankings: Week 6

  1. UCLA (E) – After taking care of business at home against the Trojans there’s no reason to contemplate UCLA surrendering the top spot this week. They’ll travel to the desert this week to face a team that beat them at Pauley and a streaking Arizona team.
  2. CAL (+2) – The Golden Bears seem to have regained their swagger and composure after a 4-game bump in the road and look to continue to build momentum in the second half when they look for revenge at home against the Cardinal.
  3. Washington (-1) – The Huskies have quickly lost that best record in the conference with splits the last two weeks, but have a good chance at regaining it when they host the bottom two teams in the conference. Continue reading ‘PAC-10 Power Rankings: Week 6’

PAC-10 Power Rankings: Week Five

 

  1. UCLA(+1) – The Bruins returned to their winning ways by utterly dominating CAL last week. The first half of conference play has shown that they could be the best team in the conference, but not by the landslide originally thought.
  2. Washington (-1) – The Huskies don’t fall too far after splitting in the desert. They could drop as far as 5th or 6th in the conference before all is said and done because of the many tough road trips they have remaining.
  3. USC (+2) – They snuck by Stanford at home, before controlling the game against CAL. They are too inconsistent for this to become a permanent spot. With some difficult second-half road trips coming up they will likely struggle more from here on out. Continue reading ‘PAC-10 Power Rankings: Week Five’

Arizona: Week Five Recap

Kyle Fogg has stepped up big-time the last three game. Could he become the difference breaker between NCAA & NIT?

Kyle Fogg has stepped up big-time the last three games. Could he become the difference breaker between NCAA & NIT?

Arizona’s sweep over the Washington schools this week is definitely something to get excited about. And it’s not just because it was their first PAC-10 series sweep of the season outside of Oregon/Oregon State either. It’s much bigger than that. It’s that they beat two completely different teams in decisive manners and with an array of different weapons.

 

 In Thursday’s game against Washington, they beat the Huskies at their own game. They were aggressive, attacked the rim, used the baseline well, and found themselves the beneficiary of a barrage of free throws. An impressive win when you consider that UCLA and CAL have been the only conference teams to date to do that to the Huskies.

 

In their weekend match-up against the Bennett Ball Cougars, they were able to force their tempo in the second half, and apply dizzying pressure along the perimeter. The first half was rather unnerving as the ‘Cats failed to force the tempo, but a huge second half run en route to 43 second half points showed what the ‘Cats are capable of when they are focused and determined.

 

There have been some phenomenal changes in mindset amongst certain players. Budinger’s approach to his first half mini-slump against WSU was excellent. He didn’t once check out of the game mentally and found was to get his teammates involved before going nuts in the second half and finding his stroke again.

 

Nic Wise proved that he is king of the 72” or less club as he tore apart Isaiah Thomas, Justin Dentmon, and Venoy Overton to the tune of 29 points and 8 assists. A huge outburst by Wise is not a shocker, but to become the level of offensive threat he was is just plain scary.

 

Jordan Hill continues to impress, as Arizona fans have come to expect, with his “typical,” yet amazing performances tallying 16 points with 16 rebounds, and 18 points with 9 rebounds. That is the type of performance Arizona fans have become accustomed to with Jordan Hill. But not typically when the Wildcats have four players scoring double digits. The coexistence of the two show that Arizona is playing extremely well together and have found a rhythm that includes an inside-outside game on every possession, rather than from one possession to another.

The biggest development for the Wildcats, however, has to be the unbelievable play by Kyle Fogg. Fogg is averaging just under 15 points per game over the last three for one major reason – he isn’t hesitating to take open looks. After the close losses to USC and ASU where he was essentially dared to shoot, it seems as though Fogg is taking it personally. He’s taking open looks when he gets them, and is being more aggressive on both ends of the floor. His performance means that the Wildcats will no longer suffer when one of the “Big Three” is having an off night.

 

Despite these great performances, the Wildcats still have little room for error right now. These were games that they needed to win, and by doing so they have only stayed the guillotine for a short while longer. The Wildcats needs to continue to build on their performance and have a great opportunity to do so when they face the Oregon schools next week. They have a tough road ahead, but a sweep of the Washington schools has provided a sign of life as well as a ray of hope. Bear Down Arizona!


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PAC-10 Power Rankings

1. Cal 2. Washington 3. UCLA 4. Arizona 5. Oregon 6. Oregon State 7. Arizona State 8. Washington State 9. Stanford 10. USC

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