Pac-10 Preview: Collison Leads a Talented Group of Pac-10 Point Guards
The Pac-10 is always a premier conference in the college basketball world. With the conference struggling in football this season, it is even more important to have a great season in basketball to stay on the national level.
The conference that sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament, and could have sent seven, graduated a lot of top notch players, seven of which were taken in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft and five more were taken in the second round.
Losing this many great players obviously will affect the league, but with great recruiting most teams are looking to stay at the top.
This is a look at one of the most important positions on the court, point guard. Floor generals are bringing the ball up and setting up the offense and without a good player running the point teams are in for a long season. Every starting point guard is ranked in order from the best to worst.
1. Darren Collison, UCLA
Last season, Collison, a senior, led the Bruins in minutes per game and was second in scoring at 14.5 ppg on a team that had three players drafted, including two in the top five. He is lightning fast and can be an immediate game changer with his quick hands on defense averaging almost two steals a game. His role will be even more crucial as the team graduated four of their top six in scoring.
However, he will not be alone as UCLA brings in one of the best recruiting classes in the country with a group of players who will be asked to play immediately. Should Collison continue his growth as a player and show the composure he always has had, UCLA should be a contender to go deep into the tournament once again.
2. Taylor Rochestie, Washington State
With Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low on the team last year it was easy to look over Rochestie. The 6'1 senior will be without his top two scoring threats from a year ago, meaning he will have to look for his shot more on offense.
That could end up being a good thing.
He was first in the Pac-10 in assist/turnover ratio last year and was the top shooter on the team from beyond the arc shooting an unbelievable 43 percent. The team could take a while to gel, with seven true freshman on the team making the play of Rochestie even more important if the Cougars want to return to the Big Dance for the third straight year.
3. Mitch Johnson, Stanford
Brook and Robin Lopez are both in the NBA, meaning Mitch Johnson will most likely be asked to score more for the Cardinal this season. It is not a role that he is comfortable with as he led the team in minutes, but was only fifth in scoring last season.
What he does bring to the team is his play making ability.
He led the conference in assists at 5.2 per contest, and averaged 0.8 steals per game. His back court partner Anthony Goods returns making them the most experienced guard combination in the country.
His 4.3 rebounds per game is another aspect of his game that sets him apart from the other point guards in the conference. As long as he is not asked to be a big time scorer, Johnson can manage a game and keep the Cardinal close, he just won't hit the big shot at the end.
4. Nic Wise, Arizona
With Jerryd Bayless in the NBA, Brandon Jennings in Rome and Lute Olsen announcing his sudden retirement early in the season the Arizona Wildcats would appear to be in a desperate situation.
Russ Pennell becomes the third head coach in as many years, but he does have Nic Wise returning. Wise fought through an injury plagued season to average 4.5 assists per game and end up with 53 steals despite only playing in 26 games.
He will benefit from Chase Budinger returning, but will still need to contribute to replace Bayless's 19.7 ppg.
He scored double digits in all but three of his conference games. He shot 45 percent from the field, and 48 percent from beyond the arc making the 5'10 junior a tough player to defend. As long as he can bring the ball up consistently, Pennell should be able to lead the team back to the NCAA tournament.
5. Daniel Hackett, Southern California
Like Wise, Hackett benefited from having a freshman guard playing along side him. OJ Mayo is gone to the NBA meaning Hackett will be the player expected to bring the ball up most of the time.
He averaged 3.2 assists per game, but also turned the ball over 2.2 times per contest. He averaged 1.2 steals per contest and shot led the team in free throw shooting at 81.5 percent.
He will need to replace some of Mayo's scoring, and after shooting 43% from the field, he has the touch to do it. Look for him to be a slashing point guard trying to get to the rim using his 6'5 frame to outmuscle some of the leagues smaller guards.
6. Derek Glasser, Arizona State
Last season, Derek Glasser was one of the more experienced players on the surprising Sun Devils roster. This year the inexperienced group returns almost everyone, meaning less pressure will be placed on Glasser.
He is not a scorer, 6.1 ppg, but is a good distributor of the ball, 3.9 apg. He shot 84 percent from the free throw line and averaged over a steal per contest. As long as he can get the ball to James Hardin and David Pendergraph, the Sun Devils should be able to improve on their 19 regular season wins from a year ago.
7. Jerome Randle, California
Randle was third on the Golden Bears in minutes per game and scoring playing in 32.3 minutes per game and averaging 11.8 points.
Ryan Anderson is gone to the New Jersey Nets, but the Bears do return Patrick Christopher. Together they form one of the better backcourts in the conference. Randle averaged 3.7 assists per contest, but turned the ball over 3 times on average.
He will need to be more efficient with the basketball if Cal wants to compete with the better teams in the Pac-10. He is an extremely good free throw shooter at 87 percent for the year.
He had a career high nine assists against USC in the conference opener last season.
8. Tajuan Porter: Oregon
As a freshman, Porter shot 43 percent from three point range and averaged 14.6 points per game, second only to Aaron Brooks. Coming into last year Porter had big shoes to fill as he moved from the off guard position to the point. At times he looked good, nine assists in the season opener against Pepperdine, and others he appeared to struggle, 1-9 shooting against Washington State.
He scored 13.9 points per game as a sophomore, but only shot 39 percent from the field. He only had 2.4 assists per game despite playing alongside Bryce Taylor, Malik Hairston, and Maarty Luenen. His 5'6 size makes him a weak defender at best as bigger guards can out muscle him. If the Ducks want any chance of returning to the post season, Porter is going to have to cut back on his 2.3 turnovers and show he can make better decisions.
9. Venoy Overton: Washington
Overton chose UW after decommiting to Tim Floyd and USC following the signing of OJ Mayo. A Seattle native, Overton made it easier on Lorenzo Romar as Justin Dentmon could move off the ball to his more comfortable position.
He only averaged 4.9 points per game and does not look for his shot too often, which is probably a good thing as he only shot 34 percent from the field.
True freshman Isaiah Thomas is coming to UW a year later than expected and could push Overton for the starting spot. Thomas was the SPSL South MVP as a junior averaging 32 ppg before moving to Connecticut. He is a great scorer, and at 5'8 reminds Husky fans of Nate Robinson.
Overton is the better defender, but Thomas's scoring could be too much for Romar to have come off the bench. Neither player is a complete guard and both have their flaws which could take some time to fix.
10. Josh Tarver: Oregon State
Oregon State was the laughing stock of the Pac-10 going 0-18 in conference play last season and appear to be headed to the cellar once again. Tarver, a junior, brought the ball up the majority of the time and with his brother Seth, formed the only bright spot for the Beavers.
Josh Tarver averaged 6.7 ppg and 2.4 apg. He is not a point guard by nature but is required to play it due to a lack of talent. He had a season high 14 points against Arizona State, and six assists against UCLA.
The Beavers are a long way away from being a contender in the Pac-10, and it will take a mental lapse from their opponents and a career day from the Tarver's for them to steal a conference win this season.
A point guard is the coach on the floor for each team and it is obvious that they are an important part to a team's success. The top three guards listed played on the three best teams in the Pac-10 last season, and there obviously is some correlation. For any of these teams to make the leap to the top of the conference it is going to take improved play from their point guards.
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