In the past, coaches, players, and fans alike could argue that the Pac-10 was as good as any basketball conference in the country.
Recently though, that seems to have cooled off.
Take Arizona for example. They have a streak of 25 consecutive March Madness appearances, but under new coach Sean Miller, with a roster including five freshman and five sophomores, the Wildcats could be in trouble.
USC, UCLA, and Washington all lost key players to the draft in addition to Arizona.
"When a league puts 21 guys into the NBA ... it tells you about the quality of coaches the Pac-10 has, and the kind of athletes those coaches recruit," USC coach Kevin O'Neil said.
First, I'll do a rundown of my predicted final standings, a bit on recruiting, and the "Honor Roll".
Projected Final Standings
1. Washington Huskies. The Huskies amazing backcourt could be even better this year with the addition of Abdul Gaddy. However, the four-year star Jon Brockman took his skills to the NBA which could have a negative impact. All in all, the depth and quickness of the team will prove too much for the rest.
2. California Golden Bears. The collective shooting ability would get them to the Final Four. However, Cal still lacks a productive and consistent low-post scoring threat. But they still have rich talent, and it puts them and the Huskies in a fight for the top.
3. UCLA Bruins. Five years in a row now UCLA has had an elite recruiting class. But heavy departures can't disguise the still abounding talent—including the newcomers—that exists in Westwood.
4. Arizona Wildcats. Sean Miller as new head coach—good or bad? He's one of the best, and seems up to the challenge. However, nearly 50 percent of the Wildcats rebounds and points are now in the NBA. A 26th trip to March Madness isn't out of reach, but will be more difficult than ever.
5. Oregon Ducks. The Ducks have 89 percent of their scoring returning, as well as some great freshman. But lets not forget that was the same 89 percent that led a pitiful 2-16 disaster last year. Oregon is much improved, but it won't be enough for national recognition.
6. Arizona State Sun Devils. The Sun Devils only lost two starters this past summer. While those were major, dominating players, Sendek is skilled enough as a coach to keep ASU in most games.
7. Oregon State Beavers. Four starters return from a squad that shocked the conference, and greatly exceeded expectations. Craig Robinson is getting old, and the Pac-10 won't be caught off guard this year round though, don't expect anything big from these guys.
8. USC Trojans. If you believe Kevin O'Neil can turnaround the program, then there's hope. If you can't, you're being realistic. DeRozan, Hackett, and Gibson are gone this year. Wow ... that's a lot of talent. It'll take a miracle to hit .500 this year.
9. Washington State Cougars. WAZZU, as they're commonly known, is looking like the most pathetic Pac-10 team all around this sports season. Klay Thompson is a playmaker, but the departure of Tony Bennett will hurt, and hurt badly. I don't see the Cougars winning many games this year.
10. Stanford Cardinal. By year's end, some might be calling Landry Fields the best player in the conference. Other than Fields though, the roster has close to zero talent, or potential. It would shock the conference, and the nation for Stanford to finish above eighth place.
Best Recruiting: UCLA. Coach Ben Howland loaded up bringing in Tyler Honeycutt and Mike Moser, along with power forwards Brendan Lane and Reeves Nelson. The two small forwards, Moser and Honeycutt will get some decent playing time with the loss of Josh Shipp.
Biggest Impact: Abdul Gaddy, Washington. Washington have a big void to fill at point guard with the loss of Justin Dentmon, but Gaddy seems up to it. He should be an immediate standout, and Washington will be one to watch this year with Gaddy at the helm.
Best Playmaker: Abdul Gaddy, Washington. Very few freshman in the nation will have as big of impact as Gaddy. He has amazing playmaking skills, as shown in highlights of his high school career. Gaddy specializes in making his team look good, and Washington should be the most fun to watch this season of the Pac-10, if not the nation.
Dark Horse Freshman: Derrick Williams, Arizona. He had committed to USC, but switched over to Arizona following the resignation of Tim Floyd. Williams had a huge year, showing tremendous ability and potential his senior year in La Mirada, California. He should start his freshman year, and a lot of opponents could be in for a surprise facing off against Derrick Williams.
Player of the Year: Jerome Randle, California.
Freshman of the Year: Abdul Gaddy, Washington.
Top Shooter: Jerome Randle, California.
Top Rebounder: Quincy Pondexter, Washington.
Top Playmaker: Derek Glasser, Arizona State.
Best NBA Prospect: Klay Thompson, Washington State.
Most Entertaining: Isaiah Thomas, Washington.