Pac's Thin: UCLA, USC, and Co. are Light This Year, Expectations Scaled Down

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 27:  Jordan Hill #43 of the Arizona Wildcats takes the court during player introductions against the Louisville Cardinals  during the third round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Lucas Oil Stadium on March 27, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

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During the 2007-2008 season, the Pac-10 was arguably the nation's best conference. Six of the ten teams reached the dance (and Arizona State was probably the first team left out). The league was well represented in the 2008 draft—five of the first eleven picks, seven of the first 21 picks, and twelve players overall were taken. In the 2009 draft, seven more players that were on a Pac-10 roster in '07-'08 were picked, including James Harden and Jordan Hill, who both went in the lottery.

It is safe to say that the league has produced as much, if not more, NBA caliber talent as any conference the last two seasons.

But that may change this season.

Each summer, Draft Express runs a segment breaking down the top 15 NBA prospects in each conference. This year, the pickins are quite slim out west (to note: DX does not count freshman, although it may be a moot point—Washington's Abdul Gaddy is the only Rivals top 25 frosh headed to the Pac-10). Take a look at their top 10 (which came in two parts, here and here):

  1. PG Malcolm Lee, UCLA
  2. PF Michael Dunigan, Oregon
  3. SF Klay Thompson, Washington State
  4. SG Patrick Christopher, Cal
  5. SF Quincy Pondexter, Washington
  6. SG Dwight Lewis, USC
  7. PF Drew Gordon, UCLA
  8. SG Jerime Anderson, UCLA
  9. PG Isaiah Thomas, Washington
  10. PG Jerome Randle, Cal

There may not be a lottery pick in that group. Outside of Isaiah Thomas and maybe Jerome Randle, there may not be a single pre-season all-american vote (although, I think Klay Thompson is going to surprise a lot of people outside Pullman). Thomas and Randle both posted impressive numbers last year, but with each standing around 5'9", we aren't exactly dealing with the next Derrick Rose.

Look, we know this season is a rebuilding one for the Pac-10 as a whole. UCLA is going through a changing of the guard as four year stalwarts Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Alfred Aboya have finally graduated. Ditto for Arizona State, who lost James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph. Arizona, who is in danger of missing the tournament for the first time in a quarter century, and USC, who has seen as much talent pass through their program as any in the nation the last five years, are both essentially starting from scratch with new coaching staffs. Stanford and Washington State are down, and the Oregon schools are, well, just not that good right now.

Outside of Cal and Washington, there may not be another top 25 team, at least in the preseason. Whether it is losing players to the draft, a coaching change, a scandal, or just simply a couple unlucky years recruiting, just about every team in the Pac-10 has suffered a setback in the last two year.

But that's the way it goes with the BCS conferences.

The SEC was a joke last season, but this year they boast one of the best teams in the country, and could realistically send six or seven teams to the dance.

The Big East was stacked in '08-'09, but this year they are probably only better than, well, the Pac-10.

So if you are a fan of the Pac-10, just sit tight this year. Things will swing back your way. Hey, if UCLA doesn't lose anyone to the draft, you could be looking at the 2011 national champs.