Many of the so called experts are deriding the Pac 10 as having a down year in 2008-9, especially when compared to last years tremendous showing. It's true that the conference has fewer elite teams than last year, but outside of Oregon State, there are nine teams in the conference capable of playing in the post season. By any measure other than last year, this is a very deep conference and one that will be as intriguing as any in recent memory to watch. As few as thirteen and perhaps twelve wins will earn the conference championship this season.
1.) UCLA: If the Bruins can go to the final four for the fourth straight season then people are going to soon forget John Wooden and start calling Ben Howland the true wizard of Westwood. UCLA welcomes back Darren Collison and Josh Shipp and introduces one of the most talented freshman in the country in Jrue Holiday. If that embarassment of back court riches weren't enough, Jerime Anderson, Malcolm Lee and veteran roll player Mike Roll are all capable players. Unfortunately, as full as the cup is in the backcourt, that's how empty the Bruins are up front. Alfred Aboya and James Keefe are the only returning frontcourt players with any meaningful experience and neither is going to make anyone forget Kevin Love or Richard M'Boute M'boute. A trio of youngsters show promise for the future in the blocks (Dragovic, Gordon and Morgan) but none are ready to contribute meaningfully today. Howland's savvy and his stellar backcourt give UCLA a slight nod as the favorite to win the conference but they are far from the dominating teams we've come to associate with the Bruins.
Arizona State: Herb Sendek has turned around the Devils program in only two short seasons. The catalyst for this quick three sixty is sophomore wing player, James Harden. Harden is not huge, nor is he explosive athletically but instead is just simply really, really good. He can shoot it from deep or take it to the hole and is adept a rebounder, passer and defender as he is a scorer. Despite some talent around him as Harden goes so goes ASU. Jeff Pendergraph returns for his senior season in the post. He's capable of being dominant down low but lacks consistency. There are some decent role players to fill in around Harden and Pendergraph including sophomores Ty Abbot and Rihard Kuksiks and they along with Sendek's disciplined style should help him complete his rebuilding work by getting the Sun Devils to the tournament
USC: Tim Floyd has the most well rounded and talented squad in the conference. He returns the conferences best shot blocker in Taj Gibson alongside a heady point guard in Daniel Hackett and a solid shooting threat on the perimeter in Dwight Lewis. All three are vets of the P10 wars. Add to the mix is the most explosive athlete to come into the P10 in years. DeMar Derozan is a slasher extrordinaire with huge hops and blinding quickness on the wing. He's started to come into his own the last few games for the Trojans and as he gains consistency and finds some chemistry with his elder teammates, USC will become a force. Expect the Trojans to start slow and finish strong
Arizona: Despite losing a coaching legend in Lute Olson, the Wildcats return two upperclassmen who will likely have long careers in the NBA. Chase Budinger is a wonderfully athletic wing who can shoot the lights out from deep. Jordan Hill is a big man who explodes off the floor and seems to have found his inner Rick Mahorn after playing way too softly his first two seasons in Tucson. Add in a very heady and mentally tough point guard in Nic Wise and you have a trio capable of leading this team to the top of the conference. A complete lack of depth and the upheaval of Lute's departure will lead to inconsistency and drop them a notch below the top teams in the Pac 10.
Cal: MIke Montgomery let it be known early and often that this years Cal team would struggle. Despite his expectation management, the cupboard is far from bare in Berkeley. Montgomery has five players in their third or fourth year in college including as strong a backcourt as you will find outside of Westwood. The light has gone on for point guard Jerome Randle and his one man fast breaks and deep shooting range will help him gain All Pac 10 status. Patrick Christopher is a big time wing scorer with shut down defensive potential and Theo Robertson is the steady jack of all trades who does whatever is needed for the Bears to win. A thin frontcourt is all that stands between Cal and the top teams in the conference. Montgomery has instantly made Cal a tougher mental and physical team and they should be right on the bubble come NCAA tourney time.
Washington: Despite Lorenzo Romar's best efforts to the contrary, UW should find itself back in the postseason this year. Jon Brockman is the conference's best big man and is a lock for a double double whenever he steps on the floor. Underperforming prep stars Justin Dentmon and Quincy Poindexter finally have settled into being solid role players while incoming frosh point guard Isiah Thomas is a star in waiting. This team has the necessary depth, raw talent and experience to compete for the Pac 10 title. Romar's inability to develop players is the only thing holding the Huskies back.
Stanford: Johnny Dawkins has his Cardinal team exceeding expectations early on. Stanford enters the Pac 10 race undefeated despite the loss of Los Lopez. The team has shifted effortlessly from a slower tempo, inside dominated team to one that uses its shooting, perimeter pressure defense and experience to play consistently well. Anthony Goods is a superb deep shooter and an underrated defender. Lawrence Hill is a versatile baseline player who can defend and score in the post as well as stepping out and knocking down long jumpers. Mitch Johnson is yet another in a long line of supper savvy winning point guards at Stanford. Beyond those three, the depth is questionable and the Cardinal have almost no post players of consequence.
8th - Washington State: Tony Bennett's team lost a lot with Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver graduating. While he welcomes in a talented recruiting class, it will take some time for the newcomers to master the intricate defense and make no mistakes offense that Bennett favors. Former role players, Taylor Rochestie and Devin Harmeling are now being asked to be go to scorers and the transition has been far from smooth. Big man Aron Baynes is still a year away from counting himself among the conference's best players in the paint. The Cougars best players is freshman Klay Thompson, who seems destined to be a star but his and this teams best days are likely at least a year away.
9th - Oregon: Ernie Kent is a Lorenzo Romar clone. A fabulous recruiter who wins when his teams are filled with seniors and lose far more than they should when he lacks senior leadership, Kent has a very talented but even younger team this season. Tajeun Porter is an undersized shooting guard who can fill it up when left alone but struggles when teams focus on him. Joevan Catron is a "nice" but very undersized post player and Michael Dunigan, Garret Sims and Kamryon Brown are all talented youngsters but not yet ready for prime time. Expect Oregon to be competitive the second time around in conference play, but they will lose early and often the first half of the Pac 10 slate.
10th - Oregon State: Well at least his brother in law is President. New Beaver coach Craig Robinson is otherwise in for a very unmemorable season. This program has been in a constant state of rebuilding and while OSU has some talent, the team has forgotten what it's like to win games and unfortunately that problem is about to get worse. The Beavers will be lucky to steal a game this year in conference play.