Pac-10 Hoops Preview

January 4, 2009

Last year, only the Big East could legitimately claim to be a better top-to-bottom conference than the Pac-10. This season, a youthful Pac-10 may once again prove to be strong by year’s end, as perhaps 6 teams could earn NCAA bids. The conference’s list of outstanding, big-name coaches – Ben Howland, Tim Floyd, Lorenzo Romar, Tony Bennett, Herb Sendek, Mike Montgomery, and Ernie Kent – figure to make the Pac-10 race extremely competitive. With the start of conference play this weekend, here is our preview:


UCLA lost 3 starters to the NBA draft (including two players drafted top five), but reload with the nation’s top recruiting class. The prize of that five-player class is combo guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday already has demonstrated this season that he is an explosive scorer and sound decision-maker with the basketball.

In addition, several veterans return, led by the outstanding Darren Collison at the point. Collison is a lightning-quick defensive ballhawk who shot over 50% last year from three-point land. He is joined on the perimeter by versatile swingman Josh Shipp, another double-digit scoring threat.

Inside, UCLA has two physical rebounders in James Keefe and Alfred Aboya. Off the bench, the Bruins have some explosive outside shooting with Michael Roll and Nikola Dragovic. Roll, in particular, has excelled when given extra minutes, as he put up big numbers this year when Shipp missed several games due to injury.

After suffering two close non-conference losses, the Bruins figure to improve as the freshmen acclimate to Division I basketball. Coach Howland’s defensive approach will keep them in every game, and should have them primed to advance deep in the Tournament.

#2 USC

USC returns one of the nation’s best shotblockers in 6’9” Taj Gibson. Two years ago, the athletic Gibson dominated and outplayed Tyler Hansbrough in a head-to-head Tourney matchup, proving that he can play with anyone. Gibson is also a solid rebounder.

Gibson will receive plenty of perimeter help from Daniel Hackett, Dwight Lewis, and prize recruit DeMar DeRozan. The 6’5” Hackett is a steady point guard and solid defender with great size. He possesses international experience as well, having previously played for Italy’s national team.

Compton’s DeRozan, like Holiday above, is a top 5 recruit. DeRozan is an exceptional leaper who will surely have his fill of highlights throughout the year. If he develops consistency with his outside stroke, lookout.

Coach Tim Floyd produces good defensive squads each year, and this season should be no exception. The Trojans will make the Tournament again this year.

#3 Arizona State

This team is all about star guard James Harden. Harden is a great scorer, solid defender, and a sure-fire NBA draft pick. He averaged nearly 18 a game his freshman year, while shooting over 52% from the field. Although he’s not a super athlete, Harden simply makes plays. He is ASU’s best guard since the Fat Lever-Byron Scott days.

Harden will be helped inside by Jeff Pendergraph, a 12 points-per-game scorer. Pendergraph will need to do a better job avoiding foul trouble this year, given his important role on the team.

#4 Arizona

The loss of star recruit Brandon Jennings to Europe was just the start of Arizona’s problems. Now, this progam might be making its last stand as a Tournament-worthy team. The reason? Legendary coach Lute Olsen has officially left, leaving the program without its biggest recruiting draw.

Still, there is some firepower on the roster. Forward Chase Budinger has three-point range, athleticism, and is a very good passer. He will be a first-round pick if he decides to leave school this year. Nevertheless, Budinger must toughen up defensively for Arizona to excel.

Big man Jordan Hill finally appears to be reaching his potential. Hill is a legit double-double threat inside, and has had several big games this year.

Overall, the roster lacks depth. But Hill, Budinger, and guard Nic Wise provide enough punch to make Arizona dangerous.

#5 Washington

This team will be led by the physical Jon Brockman. Brockman stands only 6’7”, yet averaged 17 and 11 last year. He is a tough rebounder with a high motor, but must improve his 52% shooting on free throws.

Brockman will be assisted on the perimeter by swingman Quincy Pondexter (9.9 PPG), and a good recruiting class. That class will be led by two local kids, 6’6” Scott Suggs, and 5’8” playmaker Isaiah Thomas. To succeed, the Huskies will need those recruits to develop quickly.

#6 California

Few teams lost as much frontcourt talent as the Bears, with big men Devon Hardin and Ryan Anderson both getting selected in the NBA Draft. Fortunately, for Bears fans, Cal has hired one of the best minds in college basketball to rebuild the program – Mike Montgomery. At Cal, Montgomery presumably will be free from some of the academic restrictions that hindered his recruiting efforts at Stanford. As such, he could rebuild the program rather quickly.

Coach Montgomery’s offenses typically get great shots from their half court sets, and that pattern should continue. Offensively, look for guards Patrick Christopher, Jerome Randle, and newcomer D.J. Seeley to lead the way.

Interior play and rebounding will be a question for this team. There are 2 7-footers on the roster, but both are works in progress. For now, Montgomery has been starting center Jordan Wilkes, son of ex-Laker great Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes.

#7 Stanford

This is a program clearly in transition. The Lopez twins took their nearly 30 PPG and 14 RPG to the NBA, while coach Trent Johnson skipped town for LSU. The loss of Johnson impacted the school’s recruiting, as top recruit Miles Plumlee was given his scholarship release and opted for Duke.

To fill the coaching void, Stanford hired long-time Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins. Dawkins brings a good reputation, and was overdue in getting a head coaching gig. He will depend heavily on swingman Anthony Goods to provide the bulk of the scoring.

Still, the talent on the rest of the roster appears thin. An NIT bid might be their best hope.

#8 Washington State

Coach Bennett lost two key players in Derrick Low and NBA second-rounder Kyle Weaver. In response, he brought in a large, 9-player recruiting class, led by swingman Klay Thompson, son of ex-Laker Mychal Thompson.

In addition to the kids, guard Taylor Rochestie returns. Rochestie is a solid ballhandler with three point range. He averaged 10 PPG last year. He will be assisted by Aussie big man Aron Baynes, a tough rebounder inside.

This team could be the conference sleeper, if the kids develop. Bennett’s ball control, milk-the-clock offense always manages to keep games close. As a result, WSU should at least be competitive this season.

#9 Oregon

Oregon lost plenty of scoring punch with the graduation of Malik Hairston and Marty Leunen. To compensate for that loss of offense, standout point guard Tajuan Porter will need to have an outstanding year. The 5’6” Porter is a quick, dynamic playmaker, who can wreak havoc on a defense when he’s on his game.

Coach Kent brought in a deep recruiting class to help Porter, including three kids from Chicago. The prize of the class is 6’10” Michael Dunigan, a McDonald’s All-American from Farragut high in Chicago. Dunigan, and fellow frosh Garrett Sim, already have earned starting spots for the Ducks.

This team might make the NIT.

#10 Oregon State

The most notable thing about this team is that its coach is the new President’s brother-in-law. Talent-wise, the cupboard is bare.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald

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