Breaking Down the Pac-10 Basketball Race


In 2009, the Pac-10 was historically bad with its out of conference losses and an astoundingly low two bids to the NCAA Tournament. Washington put on a show reaching the Sweet 16, but the Pac-10 faded out of the national spotlight and took a back seat to the other major conferences. Commissioner Larry Scott is hoping the 2010 season turns out much better. Scott is on a mission to expand the Pac-10 brand and generate more revenue in media deals. The better the product on the court, the more networks will bid for the television rights.

With conference play opening up tomorrow, it’s time to predict the order of finish in the conference:

1. Washington (8-3)

The Huskies were the preseason favorite because of their stellar roster. They lost Quincy Pondexter from their 2009 squad, but speedy guards Isiah Thomas and Venoy Overton remain. Those two can put tremendous pressure on opposing teams and cause havoc in transition. Matthew Bryan-Amaning is a force inside shooting over 56% from the floor. As the prohibitive favorites last year, Washington struggled early in conference. Can they get off to a fast start against the Los Angeles schools?

2. Arizona (11-2)

Unfortunately for Trojan fans, Arizona is loaded with talent that committed to USC but then jumped ship when Tim Floyd resigned. The Wildcats only losses came to ranked teams, and they will surely improve upon their 10-8 conference record from a year ago now that their top players are sophomores. Derrick Williams is playing out of his mind, averaging 19.3 points per game while shooting 63.2% from the field. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Wildcats ended up winning the conference given their talent. They should cruise through their opening weekend against the Oregon schools.

3. Washington State (10-2)

Klay Thompson has put the Cougars on his back on the way to an impressive 10-2 start. He has averaged 22.3 points per game while shooting nearly 50% from the floor. Faisal Aden has complimented Thompson nicely by averaging 16.1 points per game from the guard position. They key to the Cougars success has been their lights out shooting. They rank 10th in the country in shooting percentage by nailing 49.4% of their shots as a team. Can this team stay focused? After a solid win against No. 15 Baylor, Washington State lost by double digits against Butler.

4. USC (8-5)

Despite being 8-5, the Trojans have a renewed pep in their step with transfer Jio Fontan available. USC is playing much better offensively now that they have two serious outside threats to open up the middle for Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson. If they maintain their focus, USC will be a tough out for everyone because of their combination of tall big men and shifty guards that can score. Add to that a stifling defense and the Trojans should improve on their 8-10 conference record from a year ago. Opening weekend will tell a lot. How will they handle the Washington schools at home? They swept the Huskies and split with the Cougars a year ago.

5. UCLA (8-4)

The Bruins may be the hardest team in the conference to predict. They took Kansas to the wire in Lawrence, but they also lost at home to Montana. They are currently riding a 5-game win streak, including an impressive victory over a ranked BYU squad. Tyler Honeycutt will have to do the heavy lifting if the Sons of Westwood are going to have an impact in the conference race and return to the NCAA Tournament. Does Ben Howland wish he had never left Pittsburgh? Jamie Dixon and Co. haven’t missed a beat there, while Howland is sitting on the hot seat after some mediocre seasons by Westwood standards.

6. Arizona State (7-4)

Herb Sendek’s squad has been ravaged by graduation and early departures, but he has still managed to guide his team to a 7-4 start. Only four upperclassmen are on the roster, including senior star Rihard Kuksiks. Three players average double figures, with Trent Lockett leading the way. The Sun Devils haven’t really beaten anyone of note, and their wins against inferior teams haven’t been overwhelming. The guess here is that they will finish around .500 with some suprising victories and bad losses. They should run the table against Oregon the opening weekend, though.

7. California (6-5)

The defending Pac-10 champions lost several players. Mike Montgomery’s team is very young and inexperienced. They slayed Temple early on in the season, but haven’t put up much of a fight against the other elite teams. Guard Jorge Gutierrez is one of the best defenders in the conference and leads the Bears in scoring, but he can’t be responsible for doing all of the heavy lifting. 2010 will likely be a rebuilding year as Monty tries to progress his youngsters on the fly.

8. Stanford (6-4)

As Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News points out, Stanford has  one real threat. Junior guard Jeremy Green is the Cardinal’s go to guy, but after him there are a lot of question marks. Johnny Dawkins is hoping for expanded production out of Andrew Zimmerman, who will need to increase his clout in the paint. Stanford got off to a nice 6-2 start, but they have struggled the past two games against the likes of Butler and Oklahoma State. The Cardinal opened up playing their first eight at home, and the lack of road games may hurt them down the stretch.

9. Oregon (7-5)

The Ducks may have a new court, but they likely won’t go far in 2010 under Dana Altman. They opened up against quite a few cupcakes, and are going in the wrong direction having lost the last two to lowly Virginia and Idaho. Their only hope is to rely on Joevan Catron and E.J. Singler. Both have shot at a blistering pace to start the season.

10. Oregon State (5-6)

The Beavers are one of the worst basketball teams in one of the power conferences. Craig Robinson’s squad has lost to the likes of Seattle, Texas Southern, and Utah Valley. Despite a horrid start last year, Oregon State finished 8-10 in conference, but this team feels worse than last year.