The Pac-10 has as many NCAA Tournament-worthy teams on paper in the preseason as the Atlantic-10.
California and Washington are bound for the tournament, and UCLA has lots of young talent but is no sure bet to go dancing.
After that, you have to look long and hard to find another team that should make the tournament.
The rest of the league is filled with mediocre or bad teams, most going through transition periods. Few are transitioning in the right direction, and most have gone backwards over the past few seasons.
This season is rock bottom for the Pac-10 which means a turnaround is near. While the league should start moving forward in 2010-2011 (much like the SEC is doing this year), many teams battling mediocrity in the Pac-10 will stay static or drop-off.
Moving Full Steam Ahead
The Golden Bears will be outstanding this year and coach Mike Montgomery has put together an outstanding four-man recruiting class for 2010. It comes at the right time as Montgomery's four top scorers are seniors. 2010 will be a down year for Cal, but the Golden Bears will likely be an elite team again in 2011.
Isaiah Thomas has said he plans to stick around Seattle for his four years, meaning Lorenzo Romar will have a program that should be stay among the nation's elite. Freshman Abdul Gaddy might stick around just one year, but if he does stay for at least two years, Washington could be a preseason top five team in 2011.
In the Ben Howland era, every time the Bruins needed to reload, there were always upperclassman stars to guide the freshmen along. That's not the case this year, but Howland has an outstanding group of sophomores and a pretty potent bunch of freshmen. UCLA will rack up Pac-10 wins because of the conference's weakness this year, but 2011 will the year the Bruins shine.
Craig Robinson has the Beavers moving in the right direction after a dismal 2008 season. OSU should be close to an NCAA Tournament team, and with the Pac-10 being so bad this year, Oregon State could garner enough conference victories to make the tournament.
The Wildcats will likely be moving forward because of the recruiting of Sean Miller. He's secured a handful top 100 prospects during his limited time in Arizona. But Miller has to figure out how to get this year's mediocre team to succeed to keep the ball moving in the right direction.
If Miller keeps his recruits all happy and learns to use their varying talents, the Wildcats will be joining the rising column next year.
The Sun Devils won't be very good this year after losing James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph. The incoming freshmen won't be big impact players this year and there isn't a lot of returning talent, but there is hope. 2010's recruiting class is already outstanding which means next year the Sun Devils should be poised to reach the tournament again.
Johnny Dawkins' first year wasn't very good, but that was expected after losing the Lopez twins. His second year won't be very good either; in fact, the Cardinal may take another step back. The 2010 class will begin to turn the program in the right direction, but for now the Cardinal will likely be looking at the bottom third of the league for this season and at least the next.
The Ducks should be mediocre this season as the league is moving backward and they should be a little better than last year's 2-16 Pac-10 team. Freshman Jamil Wilson should help the program in the near future, but talented newcomers after Wilson are few and far between. Ernie Kent will need to land another star for 2010 if Kent wants to save his job.
New coach Ken Bone brings with him from Portland State a new style not suitable for his current roster. 2009-2010 will be a transition year for the Cougars. Bone is bringing in a number of freshmen for this year's club which features just one impact returning player.
WAZZU will likely finish near the bottom of the league and should stay there in 2010-2011. If Bone doesn't start recruiting well, the Pac-10's influx of talented freshmen will put the Cougars in the conference cellar for the next few years.
New coach Kevin O'Neill needs to pray he can get through this season without a disaster. Tim Floyd left him a roster void of much talent. Dwight Lewis and Alex Stephenson form a decent inside-outside combination, but the rest of the team is a mess.
O'Neill has recruits signed in 2010 that could save the program, but future recruits aren't always a saving grace. USC's finish this year and start to next season could be the difference between the Trojans reascending to the top of the league in 2011 or 2012 or staying near the bottom, where USC should finish this year.
What Lies Ahead
Overall, the league has suffered a drain of talent during the past two seasons leaving it in a state of decay. Fresh faces in 2009 and 2010 should send the Pac-10 back to respectability among the major conferences as early as 2010-2011 season.
If the Pac-10 teams that are already recruiting strong for 2010 cap off their classes well, the conference could be among the nation's elite once again in 2011-2012; thus completely a cycle similar to the one the SEC just went through to get itself back in the national spotlight.
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