The 2010-11 Pac-10 basketball season will never be remembered for its top ranked teams. That's because there weren't any. Unless you count the Arizona Wildcats and their number 15 spot in the polls as "top ranked."
But, it will be known for the emergence of a strong crop of high caliber, future NBA players and superstars. From outstanding freshmen like Allen Crabbe of Cal to crafty defensive specialists like senior Marcus Simmons of USC, this group is a diverse one where no one player really dominated the conference.
As the Pac-10 Tournament gets underway in Los Angeles, the nation will finally get a chance to see some of these talented players in action. With a NCAA tournament bid on the line, players from schools like University of California-Berkeley, Standford, UCLA and USC all will get an opportunity to showcase their talents for fans and NBA scouts while trying to lead their teams into the big dance that is March Madness.
This may also be a time to show the rest of the country that the pollsters made a mistake in leaving some of the top Pac-10 teams out of the rankings.
Let's take a look at the Pac-10's Top 15 Players—may the debate begin.
Jared Cunningham is a rising star playing on a sinking ship called Oregon State. The Beavers went 5-13 in the conference, but Cunningham was outstanding both on offense and defense.
The 6'4" sophomore guard is probably the best defensive playmaker the team has had since the Gary Payton era. Cunningham's 77 steals are five more than Payton had as a sophomore 23 years ago.
Cunningham was named to the All-Pac-10 Second Team and the All-Defensive Team. He averaged 13.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2 assists per game for OSU. His 2.8 steals per contest were eighth best in the country.
The fans in Corvallis must truly appreciate Cunningham's two way play—he has been the main reason for coming to games this year as OSU stumbled its way to a 10-19 season.
Aside from getting honorable mention for coolest name in the conference, senior forward Joevan Catron can also play a mean game of basketball.
A Second Team All-Pac 10 selection, the 6'6", 245 pound Catron averaged 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the lowly Ducks. Oregon finished eighth in the conference at 7-11, good enough for bragging rights in their cross state rivalry with the equally inept Oregon State Beavers.
Catron was also named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division I All-District 20 Second Team.
Catron had eight games of 20 points or more this season, including a season high 28 against Arizona in a 90-82 loss last Saturday. He averaged just under 50 percent from the field this year, good enough to warrant some serious looks from the pros.
You may ask, why put a player who averaged just 4.5 points per game on this list? The answer is simple: Marcus Simmons is a defensive powerhouse.
The Pac-10's Defensive Player of the Year, Simmons was the vice in the steely grip of the conference's leading defensive team, the USC Trojans. The 6'6" senior always got the assignment to stop the opponent's big scorer and, in most cases, he came out way ahead.
Simmons held the following conference stars to some miserable statistics: Washington State’s Klay Thompson (12 of 35, .343), Stanford’s Jeremy Green (5 of 22, .228), UCLA’s Tyler Honeycutt (6 of 16, .375) and Washington’s Isaiah Thomas (8 of 20, .400).
Simmons helped lead a Trojans defense that allowed just 62.9 points per game in going 18-13 on the year and 10-8 in the conference.
Coach Mike Montgomery - A Steady Influence on Freshman Crabbe
Allen Crabbe follows a long line of highly rated Cal point guards and, after just one season, is right in step with some of the greats of yesteryear.
The 6'6" freshman from Los Angeles has been a force for the Bears this year, as the team has shown great strides in conference play. For his efforts, Crabbe was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
Crabbe averaged 16.4 points in conference play and is the seventh Bear voted top freshman and the first since Leon Powe in 2004. Other notable great Cal guards include future NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd.
The 6'9", 240 pound Bryan-Amaning came up huge for the Huskies this year.
He continued to improve over last year when he shot 60 percent and averaged 11.8 points per game in his last 14 games for the team.
This season, Bryan-Amaning started 26 of 30 games, played 28.4 minutes, shot 56 percent from the floor, averaged 16 points, 8.3 rebounds and blocked 50 shots.
The conference recognized his outstanding efforts and voted Bryan-Amaning as its Most Improved Player in the Pac-10.
For the Huskies to advance into the big dance, Bryan-Amaning will need to kick it up another notch. He surely is capable. And if the NBA is in business next fall, look for him on someone's roster.
When Tyler Honeycutt is feeling it, UCLA Coach Ben Howland knows to get him the ball. Honeycutt has one of the best catch and shoot motions in the country and can catch fire and take over a game in a heartbeat.
Honeycutt also has suffered inconsistent stretches during this, his sophomore season. He's maturing and becoming a better defensive player, but will need to play lights out in order for the Bruins to advance into the NCAA Tournament.
Named to the All-Pac 10 Team, Honeycutt boasts some impressive stats: 12.4 points, close to three assists and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Honeycutt, a lanky 6'8", 188 pound forward, had his most impressive game on the national stage December 2nd when the Bruins nearly upset number four ranked Kansas at Allen Field House.
In that game, Honeycutt scored 33 points on 11 of 15 from the floor, including five three pointers, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. He hit from downtown to tie the game with five seconds left, only to have teammate Malcom Lee be called for a questionable foul on the other end that led to a one point Jayhawk victory.
Honeycutt scored in double figures 21 times for UCLA this season. He'll need more of the same this week at Staples Center.
The hard working junior guard is one of the main reasons for the Bears' success in 2010-11. He gives them a chance to win every night with his consistent play.
Gutierrez is averaging 14.6 points, 4.6 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.
On February 20, Gutierrez took over the game in a huge, overtime victory over UCLA. He scored nine of his career high 34 points in that overtime. He also had the assist on Brandon Smith's three pointer with 14.1 seconds to play, helping to pull out a 76-72 win over the rival Bruins.
California won its last four regular season games and is riding something of a hot streak. In going 18-13, the team lost five Pac-10 games by four points or fewer. They are a tournament darkhorse and Gutierrez is a big reason why.
The Sun Devils are already out of the Pac-10 tournament, falling to a weak Oregon in Wednesday's opening round, despite another solid performance from Trent Lockett.
Lockett scored 22 points on a very efficient 10 of 12 from the floor, but he couldn't help the rest of the team which made mistake after mistake and put Oregon on the free throw line often.
ASU committed 16 turnovers and only made one of three free throws.
Lockett started 28 of 30 regular season games for ASU and led the team in scoring with just over 13 per contest. He makes just over 50 percent of his shots from the floor and averages over five rebounds.
Lockett had a career high 22 points in the season opener against New Mexico. In that game two of his dunks found their way onto ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10.
For his efforts, Lockett was voted Second Team All-Pac 10. That follows his being honored last year on the All Conference Freshmen Team.
Reeves Nelson, UCLA's 6'8" hard-nosed sophomore forward, plays with intensity that mostly serves him well.
Nelson was named to the All-Pac 10 Team this year after an all around inspiring season. He averaged 14.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and shot 58 percent from the floor.
In his freshman season, Nelson shot even better, averaging 11 points on a 65 percent field goal percentage. That placed Nelson sixth on UCLA's all-time season leaders list, behind such greats as Jelani McCoy, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.
For UCLA to advance in the tournament, Nelson will have to lead. When the moody star is on his game and playing within himself, the Bruins are tough to beat. When he disappears, UCLA does so too, going 2-3 in games in which he scored five points or less
As Coach Ben Howland told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "Reeves is going to be a great, great basketball player" he said, pausing, then touching his finger to his head. "But it all starts up here."
Lee, Nelson and Honeycutt give UCLA three of the top players in the conference. When they all play well, the team is obviously hard to beat. Malcolm Lee is one of the Pac-10's top defensive players and his offensive game has finally started to gel.
Lee raised his scoring average this season to 13.2 from 12.1 a year ago. He hit double figures 20 times as UCLA went 22-9. Over a seven game stretch in January and February, Lee scored in double figures every time out. He finished the regular season going for more than 10 points in 11 of the team's final 13 contests.
Lee hit his season high of 25 in a February 10th win over Oregon at Eugene. Tonight he goes up against this same Ducks squad, and chances are good he'll look to score and play a key role in the Bruins offense.
The comparisons with former Huskies great Nate Robinson are obvious. Both Robinson and Thomas are on the small side and play with an incredible amount of intensity and passion.
Thomas, however, may turn out to be an even better point guard than his predecessor. The 5'9" junior point guard averaged 5.6 assists while scoring 16.6 points per game for the unranked Huskies this season. Washington is the only Pac-10 school currently ranked nationally.
Thomas upped his shooting percentage this season to almost 45 percent, and he also grabs close to four rebounds per game, proving his toughness in and around the hoop.
Thomas is a model of consistency for Washington. He scored in double figures in all but three games—all three were nine point efforts.
Washington, which averaged 84 points per game this year, will need "Mr. Reliable" at the tournament this week and beyond when they venture into March Madness.
The 6'6" junior guard from California is the son of former NBA star Mychal Thompson. When he was suspended one game last week for his admission of marijuana use, Klay showed true maturity by publicly apologizing to fans and a television audience before his team's last game of the regular season.
Otherwise, Thompson had a stellar campaign for the Cougars, raising his average this year to 21.4 points per game on 44 percent shooting. He also hit on over 41 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Thompson is a hard worker on the court, as witnessed by his 5.1 rebounds and 4 assists per game. He really was a bright spot for a Washington State team that stumbled across the finish line this year, but still ended up 19-11 overall.
NBA experts project Thompson as a second round pick should he decide to come out early. The hope at WSU is that he'll stay put.
There are few big men in the Pac-10 putting up the numbers that this 6'10", 240 pound junior does. Vucevic averages 17.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game for a USC team that rarely scores more than 65 as a team.
Named to this year's First Team Pac-10 squad, Vucevic can score from the outside as well, hitting on 38 percent of his three-point shots. He has had 20 double-doubles this year for USC, and hits on 51 percent of his shots.
When the season ends, Vucevic will have to ponder whether to declare for the NBA draft. His stock has risen that much.
USC finished 18-13 and 10-8 in the conference this year. They would not be anywhere close to that without the great play of this Montenegro native.
Stanford may be out of the tournament with a mediocre 15-16 season to show for it. But junior 6'4" guard Jeremy Green is a major highlight for the Cardinals.
Voted to the All Pac-10 Team, Green is a prolific and consistent scorer and a big time threat from three point range. In fact, his 43 percent shooting from downtown is slightly better than his overall percentage. He averaged 16.7 points and 3.4 rebounds for the season.
Green scored 20 or more points 12 times this year. His last 11 games, including last night's two point, first round tournament loss to Oregon State, were all in double figures. Eight of those games were of 20 or more points.
Teams at the next level looking for a pure scorer who can come off the bench and knock down three pointers will take a long, hard look at this Austin native.
Derrick Williams could start in the NBA. He's that good.
The 6'8" sophomore forward from La Mirada, California was named Freshman of the Year in 2010, and this season was tapped as the Player of the Year in the Pac-10.
Williams averaged 18.8 points per game, but more importantly hit on 61 percent of his shots, many of them coming from close range.
Williams averaged just over eight rebounds a game for an Arizona team that won the conference and finished the season 25-6 and 14-4 in the Pac-10.
Williams scored in double figures in all but one game this year, that being an eight point loss at USC in which he was held to eight by Marcus Simmons and the league's top defensive team.
Arizona could be a pleasant surprise in the tournament. The 15th-ranked Wildcats have the X-factor and his name is Derrick Williams.