The PAC 10 is hoping to rebound from a “down” year when just two teams played in the NCAA tourney and the conference RPI ranking was nine.
Two mainstays of the tournament, UCLA and Arizona, look to return after a year’s absence while another (Washington) looks to build on last year’s run to the Sweet Sixteen.
Overall, the conference is still in rebuilding mode. But like last year, the league will be competitive. Early non-conference games have taken on increased importance and could help to determine whether or not the PAC 10 is one of the Big 6 conferences in college basketball.
Of course the big buzz was the Lebron-esque carnival involving Terrence Jones. They had him, then they didn’t. Life goes on, though. For the Huskies it should go on at the top of the league. They did land Terrence Ross, high school and hometown friend of Jones and a top prospect as well.
Losing Quincy Pondexter, who did a lot of everything, hurts. Also, Elston Turner, a good three-point shooter has transferred. But the Huskies have more than enough returning weapons to compensate. Isaiah Thomas, Abdul Gaddy and Venoy Overton return in the back court while Matthew Bryan-Amaning returns up front.
Justin Holiday, whose minutes and productivity increased as the season went on, also returns up front. Either Darnell Gant or Brendan Sherrer needs to step up to provide some depth. Gant was inconsistent last season, while Scherrer played limited minutes.
Seven-footer Aziz N’Diaye also comes in as a transfer from junior college and gives the Huskies a potential stopper on the defensive end.
The Huskies should win the conference, barring injuries or an unforeseen catastrophe. Their play in the Maui Invitational will give us a clue at to where they are at on the national scene.
Two keys to the Wildcats' season: Derrick Williams' continued development and the ability of Lamont Jones to take over the point from the graduated Nic Wise.
Last year’s freshman of the year, Williams, was dominant at times and led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding (16 points, seven rebounds per game). He will lead in scoring again but needs more consistent outside shooting from those around him.
Jones didn’t start but played 19 minutes a game and showed some offensive prowess. If he can be a distributor as well, Arizona’s offense should be okay. The ‘Cats also welcome top-100 recruit Daniel Bejarano, who may see some minutes at shooting guard or small forward.
Last, Sean Miller’s teams get better. Last season was supposed to be a year of transition but the ‘Cats were competitive, finishing 10-8 in the conference. A couple of extra wins this year puts them near the top. A November 27th tilt with Kansas could be an early-season litmus test.
Klay Thompson, Reggie Moore, DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers return to form a solid nucleus this season for the Cougars.
Thompson faded a bit down the stretch when his shot was off so he needs to find other ways to score. He did get to the foul line five times per game and is an excellent foul shooter, so look for those numbers to go up.
Casto is a big, solid interior scorer and rebounder while Moore is a slasher who likes to take the ball to the rim. Scoring shouldn’t be an issue with this team provided they can find someone to compensate for the loss of Nikola Korprivica’s outside shooting.
Some conference home losses pushed the Cougars to the bottom of the PAC 10 standings last year. With an extra year of experience, they will move up sharply this season.
Yeah, I know. But despite the turmoil that has surrounded this team the past couple of seasons, the Trojans have some established talent.
Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic return to form a formidable duo in the front court for USC. Both can score and Vucevic is a legitimate shot-blocker on the defensive end. Top-100 recruit Bryce Jones is a shooter and will help offset the loss of Dwight Lewis.
Perhaps the fate of the Trojans won’t be apparent until transfer Jio Fontan joins the team just before Christmas. Fontan, a point guard who averaged nearly sixteen points a game for the Fordham Rams, will step in where Mike Gerrity did last year and hopefully provide the same spark—only for a more extended period.
USC won't try to run and gun, but they will play defense and their offense, come December, may be more diverse than it was last year.
Ifs and maybes surround Ben Howland’s team once again.
He seems to have landed the big body he covets in the middle in Josh Smith but apparently, it's a bigger body than it needs to be. Tyler Lamb also moves in, but to a position (shooting guard) that appears to be overcrowded at the moment.
Jerime Anderson or Malcolm Lee has to emerge as the main point guard for the Bruins. This is their key position, one where they lacked an identity last year and there are questions as to whether either of the two is the player to lead the back court. So much so, that Lazeric Jones was brought in as a JUCO transfer, not usually UCLA’s way.
There is some developing talent up front in Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson and they will benefit from Smith’s presence in the middle, but consistency may be a year away for this group.
They will be better this season, but maybe not good enough to get back to the Big Dance. The preseason NIT Tip-Off will be a strong test for this young group.
Six Through Ten
6. Arizona State
Don't ever count Herb Sendek’s teams out. Last year the Sun Devils finished a surprising 12-6, second to California in the league. Keala King is the top recruit for ASU but they have lost too much to challenge for top spot.
Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Jamal Boykin are gone as is 75 percent of the Bears scoring. Mike Montgomery’s teams have never finished below .500 in the PAC 10 but this year will be a challenge. Good recruits are coming in like Gary Franklin, Allen Crabbe, Richard Solomon, Justin Cobbs.
That said, the Bears are a year away from moving back into the top half of the conference. The Old Spice tourney will be good experience as the Bears will play Temple and either Notre Dame or Georgia.
Replacing Landry Fields’s scoring is the top priority. Junior Jeremy Green will assume that role, and he had a very good season a year ago, averaging 16 points per game.
Stanford also had arguably the best recruiting class this season, landing top-100 recruits Anthony Brown and Dwight Powell, who give the Cardinal some size up front. Still, like several others in the group, they seem to be at least a year away.
9. Oregon State
The Beavers were somewhat of a disappointment last season, failing to improve upon their CBI championship season of 2008-2009. Roeland Schaftenaar and Seth Tarver are gone and the lack of an interior presence remains. J
Joe Burton is a big body (6’7’’, 295) but it is questionable if he can log big minutes. Freshmen Chris Brown, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland have size and need to contribute right away in some capacity. Another team that is at least a year off from competing at the top.
Ernie Kent is gone and Dana Altman is in as coach, after many successful seasons at Creighton. The proverbial cupboard is not bare for the Ducks but he will need at least a year or two to shape this team.
Tajuan Porter is gone but the bulk of the scoring and minutes return for the Ducks, who finished 7-11 in conference play last season. Putting them here might be too harsh as other teams are re-tooling as well.