Pac-10 Basketball Will Have a Better Season in 2010-11

Terry LyttleContributor IDecember 1, 2010

Pac-10 Basketball Will Have a Better Season in 2010-11

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    Did the 2009-10 Pac-10 basketball season get hammered by sports analysts or what?

    It almost appears the negative Nancies, the gloom and doom prognosticators, would have us believe that Pac-10 teams belong in a convalescent center, not on a basketball court.

    One analyst’s article about the dismal state of Pac-10 basketball correctly points out that only two Pac-10 players were taken in the 2010 NBA draft, Quincy Pondexer and Landry Fields.

    What she failed to mention is that in the last four years the Pac-10 has put 29 players into the NBA, more than any other conference.

    Another analyst joined the "kick them while they're down" bandwagon by stating that the Pac-10 went from placing six teams into the NCAA Tournament three straight years to being lucky to receive two bids last season.

    Waving the white flag, he went on to say that the die had been cast and the destiny of Pac-10 basketball was clear: It will remain an inferior conference.

    Bunk! When you lose a host of great players over a span of time, it can result in a down year or two. Take a look at the two teams that represented the Pac-10 in the NCAA Tournament last season. It took a Final Four team in Duke to send California home in the second round and another Final Four team in West Virginia to defeat Washington in the Sweet 16.  

    If the litmus test for excellence is how many teams a conference puts into the NCAA Tournament, then 2011 could be the season to silence the naysayers.   

    This is a slideshow of five Pac-10 teams whom I think have 2011 NCAA Tournament potential. The team I had a difficult time omitting was USC. The photo is of the player I deem the most important to his team.

    We will begin with fifth place and slide up to first. The season is under way, but in my opinion this is the best time to evaluate, after they have played a few games.

Fifth Place: Arizona State

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    Arizona State Photo: Guard Ty Abbott

    Coach Herb Sendek (76-56) 2009-10: 22-11 overall, 12-6 conference

    NIT postseason

    Departures: Eric Boateng, Derek Glasser, Jerren Shipp and Demetrius Walker

    Arizona State is the only Pac-10 team to post 20 or more wins in each of its last three seasons.

    The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Arizona State is its incredible defense. In Herb Sendek's four years as head coach, his defense has held opponents to under 62 points per game. They have been ranked eighth in the nation the past two years, holding teams to an average of 59.6 points per game.

    The Devils return three starting seniors and five lettermen from a team that finished second behind California in the Pac-10 standings.

    Starting four guards means the onus of frontcourt duty falls mainly upon 7'0" center Ruslan Pateev. During the offseason Pateev added weight, going from 231 to 249. It’s not certain how much time backup center 7'2", 243-lb. freshman Jordan Bachynski will see.

    Arizona State’s bevy of guards are quick, talented and can score. 6'3", 205-lb. Ty Abbott (All-Pac-10 First Team last year) is such a clutch player. In road games last season Abbott hit 19 of 20 free throws and can knock down the three at 40.4 percent.

    It appears 6'2", 180-lb. Jamelle McMillan will step into the departing Derek Glasser’s role and run the show. The senior guard played beside Glasser last season and acquitted himself quite well.

    6'4", 210-lb. Trent Lockett (Pac-10 All-Freshman Team) last season, has become the consistent player Coach Sendek was looking for. Scoring around the hoop has been his forte, but he now has developed an all-around game.

    6'6", 206-lb. Rihards Kuksiks is a guard put in the power forward position but is more comfortable out at the perimeter knocking down the open shot. He plays good defense but due to his weight lacks power under the board.

    Other guards and forwards who will see time are 6'4", 201-lb. guard Keala King—this freshman is ranked 26th by—6'5", 216-lb. guard/forward Chanse Creekmur, 6'7", 210-lb. forward Kyle Cain, 6'6", 196-lb. guard/forward Carrick Felix, 6'1", 181-lb. guard Brandon Dunson and 6'1", 196-lb. guard Corey Hawkins.

Fourth Place: Washington State

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    Washington State Photo: Guard Klay Thompson

    Coach Ken Bone (16-15) 2009-10: 16-15 overall, 6-12 conference

    Departures: Michael Hurthun, Nikola Koprivica and Xavier Thames

    2009-10 was Ken Bone’s first season at Washington State taking over for Tony Bennett. Cougar fans and boosters were more than a little disgruntled about the abrupt departure of Bennett to Virginia. They were hoping for a longer tenure since he took the Cougars to their only Sweet 16 appearance in 2008.

    Bone implemented an entirely new system, more of a run and gun, which was just the opposite of Bennett’s slow the tempo down and play the half-court game. It has taken the players a full year to assimilate all its nuances.

    The Cougars have two centers in 6'11", 240-lb. Steven Bjornstad and 6'10", 277-lb. Chris McNamara. Before these two see any quality minutes, they must demonstrate to Coach Bone they can play consistently at the Pac-10 level.

    This means frontcourt duties fall mainly on the shoulders of 6'8", 255-lb. forward DeAngelo Casto. Casto is leading the league in blocked shots at 2.7 per game. Also at the forward position is 6'7", 208-lb. Abe Lodwick.

    Washington State’s Achilles heel last year was a lack of size and power in the frontcourt. Casto is a great power player, but they need another big. They are hoping 6'10", 230-lb. forward Brock Motum and 6'10", 235-lb. forward Charlie Enquist will step up and fill this void.

    6'8", 214-lb. freshman forward Patrick Simon should also see some minutes this season.

    The backcourt is led by one of the league's most prolific guards in 6'6", 202-lb. Klay Thompson. Thompson is scoring an average of 24.3 points per game along with 5.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists.

    Towards the middle of last season opposing players learned they could take Thompson out of his game by getting him frustrated, and it worked. You could see it on his face and witness it in his play. Not exactly addressing this issue,Thompson said, “This summer I focused on getting quicker and stronger,” stating that last year he was “a little one-dimensional.”

    Outstanding point guard 6'1", 180-lb. Reggie Moore has not played this season due to an injured wrist. He is said to be out "indefinitely."

    6'4", 185-lb. Marcus Capers is more than capable of filling in for Moore, along with 6'4", 185-lb. Faisal Aden.

    Other guards whom are expected to contribute are 6'1", 166-lb. Dre’ Winston Jr., 6'5", 190-lb. Mike Ladd and 6'0", 172-lb. Ben Loewen.

Third Place: UCLA

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    UCLA Bruins Photo: Forward Reeves Nelson

    Coach Ben Howland (166-72) 2009-10: 14-18 overall, 8-10 conference

    Departures: Nikola Dragovic, Michael Roll and James Keefe

    Transfers: J’Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon and Mike Moser

    A 14-18 record is totally unacceptable at UCLA and usually results in a coaching change, which happened to Steve Lavin in 2002-03, when the Bruins posted a deflating 10-19 record.

    It appears the Westwood woes have been resolved.

    The frontcourt is solid with Ben Howland playing two effective centers. 6'10", 305-lb. Joshua Smith is a McDonald’s All-American and is packing a load at 305 pounds on his 6'10" frame. Redshirt freshman 6'10", 235-lb. Anthony Stover will share time with Smith.

    6'8", 238-lb. power forward Reeves Nelson can post, hit the jumper and is excellent in the paint going to the hoop with either hand. 6'8", 188-lb. Tyler Honeycutt is a "can do" forward. Whatever needs to be done, he "can do" it. He reminds me of Justin Holiday of Washington, although I would rate Holiday a better defender.

    Backing up Nelson and Honeycutt is 6'9", 223-lb. forward Brendan Lane.

    The backcourt struggled last year with 6'2", 183-lb. point guard Jerime Anderson running the offense. This year's starting guards include 6'0", 187-lb. junior college transfer Lazeric Jones. Jones is a decent shooter, distributes the ball well and can take it to the hoop.

    Alongside Jones is 6'5", 200-lb. Malcolm Lee. Lee has been impressive in the way his game has evolved over the last two years.

    Other guards who will see playing time are 6'5", 200-lb. Tyler Lamb, 6'1", 175-lb. Matt Carlino and 6'2", 183-lb. Jerime Anderson.

    The season is early, but I see the Bruins as the "if" team of the Pac-10. On paper they look like a team that could finish anywhere from 1-4 in the Pac-10 and go to the NCAA Tournament—"if" they play to their potential.

Second Place: Arizona

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    Arizona Wildcats Photo: Forward Derrick Williams

    Coach Sean Miller (16-15) 2009-10: 16-15 overall, 10-8 conference

    Departure: Nic Wise

    Records are made to be broken, but last season’s failure to make the NCAA Tournament, the first time in 26 years, was not the kind of record Arizona was looking to break.

    The term that best describes this 2010-11 Arizona team is "balance." Coach Sean Miller has said his team has both balance and chemistry, which is a great combination.

    The frontcourt is solid, starting with 6'11", 264-lb. sophomore center Kyryl Natyazhko. Kyryl can post up, set the screen and knock down the 15-footer. He will share center duties with 7'0", 251-lb. junior Alex Jacobson.

    6'8", 241-lb. sophomore forward Derrick Williams is the "star" of this team. He was selected the Pac-10’s Freshman of the Year last season. Williams shot 57 percent from the floor and can crash the boards, rebound and hit the three.

    Alongside Williams is 6'7", 224-lb. senior forward Jamelle Horne (nicknamed Wildcard). Horne is extremely athletic and tough to defend. He is known for his "monster" blocks. Last season he had a 43.5 shooting percentage.

    They are backed up by 6'6", 226-lb. sophomore Solomon Hill, 6'7", 210-lb. junior Jesse Parry and 6'6", 205-lb. sophomore Kevin Parrom.

    The backcourt is fueled by 6'0", 196-lb. sophomore guard Lamont (Momo) Jones. It is expected that Jones will step in and fill the void left by starting point guard Nic Wise.

    Next to Jones is 6'3", 180-lb. junior guard Kyle Fogg. Fogg is a solid shooting guard but has added another element to his game. He can now go the boards with authority.

    Backing up Jones and Fogg are 6'5", 215-lb. junior Brendon Lavender and 6'2", 185-lb. freshman Jordin Mayes.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with highly touted 6'4", 208-lb. freshman guard Daniel Bejarano, who appears to be the "odd man out." Coach Miller stated it “would be very difficult” for him to be a part of the rotation. Will he stick or transfer?

First Place: Washington

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    Washington Huskies Photo: Justin Holiday

    Coach Lorenzo Romar (171-91) 2009-10: 26-10 overall, 11-7 conference

    Departures: Quincy Pondexter and Tyreese Breshers

    Transfer: Elston Turner

    Washington won the Pac-10 Tournament last season, which gave them an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they defeated Marquette and New Mexico before falling to a bigger, stronger West Virginia team that went on to the Final Four.

    Even without the talented Quincy Pondexter, the 2010-11 version of the Huskies is capable of making it back to the Sweet 16 and possibly the Elite Eight.

    Starting guard Isaiah Thomas has taken over the leadership role left by Pondexter and takes it seriously. His goal is to be a floor general getting all his teammates involved, not just rushing into the paint or draining the three.

    The frontcourt will be significantly better than last year. Forward 6'9", 240-lb. Matthew Bryan-Amaning will start at the 5 position, which usually means the opponent gets first possession. Matthew came into his own last season and has worked on his strength in the offseason.  

    Also seeing quality minutes at the center position is 7'0", 260-lb. Aziz N’Diaye. Aziz is powerful, can block shots like swatting flies, rebounds the ball well and gives Washington a strong presence around the hoop.

    The two starting forwards are 6'6", 186-lb. Justin Holiday and 6'8", 225-lb. Darnell Gant. Holiday’s nickname is "Fireman," which alludes to his ability to just about do everything. I believe Justin Holiday to be one of the best "on ball" defensive players in the nation.  

    Darnell Gant has worked on his shooting in the offseason and so adds the ability to knock down the open jumper to his résumé.

    Washington is guard-loaded, and they are quick. 5'9", 185-lb. Isaiah Thomas and 6'3", 195-lb. Abdul Gaddy are the starters. Gaddy was a high school phenom who was expected to have an amazing freshman year. However, at age 17, and with the NCAA not being high school, it has taken him a full season to mature into his 6'3" frame.

    Coming off the bench and not losing a step is 6'0", 185-lb. Venoy Overton. Overton is one of the most aggressive guards in the Pac-10. 6'6", 195-lb. Scott Suggs is a solid shooter and defender, and 6'5", 190-lb. C.J. Wilcox is the team’s sharpshooter.

    Last but not least is highly touted 6'6", 190-lb. freshman Terrence Ross. Although just a freshman, Ross shows terrific ball-handling skills, is versatile and by the middle of the season may challenge Gaddy for the starting position.

    Although they lost close games to No. 8 Kentucky and No. 2 Michigan State, Washington is a deep and talented team. The Huskies' only weakness is consistency at the free throw line and running set plays in their half-court game.