After a disappointing campaign last season, the Wildcats look to get back to form. With the return of Jawann McClellan and the addition of freshman Chase Budinger - to say nothing of senior point guard Mustafa Shakur and sophomore forward Marcus Williams - Lute Olson has a dynamic roster at his disposal. The sky's the limit if these guys learn how to share the ball.
New coach Herb Sendek has a lot of work to do. On the bright side, he has a rising star to build around in center Jeff Pendergraph. Unfortunately, that's about the extent of the good news; the Sun Devils are hurting for elite talent and will struggle in conference play.
The loss of a player like Leon Powe always smarts, but the cupboard in Berkley is far from bare for coach Ben Braun. Ayinde Ubaka may be the best player in the country that no one's ever heard of, and could push Aaron Afflalo for conference Player of the Year honors. The Bears also still have center DeVon Hardin, who could emerge as one of the nation's dominant big men. With Ubaka running the point, Cal might just turn some heads come Tourney time.
Oregon is an enigma: the Ducks consistently have as much talent as any team in the league, but they can't seem to put it to good use. Even with premier players like Malik Hairston, Aaron Brooks, and Champ Oguchi, the boys from Eugene have been erratic at best, with some chemistry issues that seem to start and end with Brooks. At times, the team has played better with the former McDonald's All-American point guard on the bench...which makes Oregon no better than a wild card in a loaded conference.
With a bevy of unproven little men, the Beavers look to be in for an uphill battle. Sure, coach Jay John can lean on sharpshooter Sasha Cuic and an experienced frontcourt...but guard play will be key in the Pac 10 this year, and OSU just doesn't have the players to compete. A conference title would be nothing short of a miracle.
No team in the Pac 10 lost more talent and production than the Cardinal. Even with the addition of a solid recruiting class - including the vaunted Lopez Twins - Trent Johnson's squad will struggle unless it defines itself early in the season. Look for a rebuilding year down on the Farm.
With potential All-American Aaron Afflalo leading the charge, the Bruins are harboring visions of a national title. Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute make for a potent inside-outside duo, and the game-tested Darren Collison should prove to be a competent replacement for Jordan Farmar. Another guy to watch: forward Joe Shipp, who's finally healthy and could be ready to pick up some scoring slack.
Even after a troubled offseason, USC is a program on the rise. The death of starting point guard Ryan Francis, who was shot and killed in his hometown of Baton Rouge this spring, leaves a gaping void both on and off the court...but look for proven scorers Gabe Pruitt, Lodrick Stewart, and Nick Young to keep the Trojans competitive. That's assuming, of course, that Pruitt can regain his academic eligibility after sitting out the first semester because of grades. Without him, you can count on the Trojans' postseason dreams going up in smoke.
Husky squads have enjoyed an unprecedented run of success in recent years, and this latest model may be the best of the bunch. The only problem is inexperience: U-Dub will likely start five underclassmen, including sophomores Justin Dentmon (point guard) and Jon Brockman (forward). They're also counting on a big contribution from freshman phenom Spencer Hawes at center, whose dominance out of the gate could go a long way towards vaulting his teammates to the top of the standings.
Tony Bennett takes over for his father this season and will run a similar slow-down style of offense. The molasses routine makes the Cougs a tough match-up for opponents, but the lack of talent in Pullman will keep them out of the running for the Pac 10 crown. Point guard Derek Low and forward Rob Cowgill are both players to watch.
Predicted Order of Finish
8. Oregon State
9. Arizona State
10. Washington State
All Pac 10 First Team
C: Spencer Hawes, Washington
F: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA
F: Nick Young-USC
G: Aaron Afflalo-UCLA
G: Ayinde Ubaka-Cal
All Pac 10 Second Team
C: DeVon Hardin, Cal
F: Jon Brockman, Washington
F: Marcus Williams, Arizona
G: Gabe Pruitt, USC
G: Mustafa Shakur, Arizona
Player of the Year
Aaron Afflalo, UCLA
Newcomer of the Year
Spencer Hawes, Washington
Coach of the Year
Tim Floyd, USC