Pac-10 Preview: Howland, UCLA Continue Dominance of Conference

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Pac-10 Preview: Howland, UCLA Continue Dominance of Conference

 

The UCLA Bruins return as the favorites to once again win the Pac-10 conference.  The three time defending champions finished with 37 out of 38 first place votes and a total of 379 votes.  Arizona State was picked second with the final top place vote.  USC, Arizona and Washington round out the top five in the preseason media poll.

Washington State, Oregon, California, Stanford and Oregon State finish out the bottom half of the preseason rankings.  Here are the total results.

 

2008-09 Pac-10 Men's Basketball Media Poll

1.UCLA (37), 379
2.Arizona State (1), 325
3.USC, 292
4.Arizona, 241
5.Washington, 217
6.Washington State, 188
7.Oregon, 147
8.California, 143
9.Stanford, 115
10.Oregon State, 40

With the season less than two weeks away from starting, it felt necessary to place my votes with a ranking of my own.

 

1. UCLA

Darren Collison is my preseason pick to be conference MVP.  He will be called upon to do even more for the Bruins after Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbaha Moute all were drafted.  

The cupboard is most certainly not empty for coach Ben Howland, entering his sixth season at the helm of the team.  His recruiting class is regarded by some as the best in the country including guard Jrue Holliday (No. 2 nationally) and J'Mison Morgan (No. 25).  

They are ranked fourth nationally in both major polls, and are a safe pick to return to the NCAA Tournament.

 

2. Arizona State

Coach Herb Sendek brought back all five starters and his top reserves from a year ago on a team that won 21 games in just his second year as coach.  James Harden was one of the best freshman in the country last year, but was overshadowed in a conference that included Love, OJ Mayo, and the Lopez twins.  

The Sun Devils were considered to be the last team left out of the NCAA Tournament and reached their regional final in the NIT.  There is no reason to believe the team will win less than the 21 they had last season.  

 

3. USC

The Trojans lose their top two scorers from last season, OJ Mayo 20.7 ppg and Davon Jefferson 12.1 ppg.  Three starters return for Tim Floyd including Taj Gibson who averaged 10.8 ppg and 7.8 rpg.  

Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett are the other two with 10.8 and 8.6 ppgrespectively. DeMar DeRozan is the prized recruit for Floyd who will be asked to replace Mayo.  As a high school senior last season, DeRozan averaged over 30 ppg.  

If Alex Stephenson can play right away for the Trojans after transferring from North Carolina they could contend for the Pac-10 title.  

 

4. Washington State

Tony Bennett has won 52 games in his first two seasons as head coach of the Cougars and led the team to back-to-back NCAA Tournament births.  The team lost its core when Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low, and Robbie Cowgill graduated, but a strong nucleus returns to the Palouse.  

Taylor Rochestie could be the best pure point guard in the country and Aron Baynes seemed to be the only Cougar who showed up to play North Carolina in their NCAA matchup.  

Daven Harmeling will return to the starting lineup after being the six man a year ago and freshman Klay Thompson should fit nicely into Weaver's role.  It could take some time for them to gel into a unit like last seasons squad, but a fairly easy non conference schedule should get them into a good position to return to the Big Dance.

 

5. Stanford

The three most important members of the Cardinal team are gone from last season: Brook and Robin Lopez are in the NBA and coach Trent Johnson is now at LSU.

New coach Johnny Dawkins will field the most experienced backcourt in the Pac-10 in Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods.  

Lawrence Hill should see the minutes he got as a sophomore, before the Lopez twins arrived in Palo Alto.  They will be outsized in the paint because the top backup for Brook and Robin, Taj Finger, also graduated.

If they want to return to the NCAA tournament it will take a lot of offensive production from Johnson, Goods, and Hill.

 

6. Arizona

Before Lute Olson stepped down as head coach, Arizona was the third best team inthePac-10.  Russ Pennell becomes the third head coach in as many years for the Wildcats and questions are already swarming around who will stick around.  

Freshman center Jeff Withey may or may not return to the team, and Brandon Jennings never made it onto campus.  They do return Jordan Hill, Nic Wise and Chase Budinger so their talent should lead them to some wins.  

Kevin O'Neil only managed eight conference wins as coach last season with Jerryd Bayless. A down season in the conference should ensure a few more victories, but not as many had Olson returned to the team.

 

7. Washington

Tyrone Willingham will be out of Seattle at the end of the football season.  One has to wonder if Lorenzo Romar will be following him shortly as his seat gets a little warmer each day.  

Jon Brockman is one of the hardest workers in college basketball and is the leading returning in the Pac-10 in rebounds even though he is only 6'7.  

Sharpshooter Ryan Appleby is gone, but freshman Isaiah Thomas is an even more explosive scorer.  Justin Dentmon has to play more like his freshman year than in his previous two, and Quincy Pondexter needs to play like the player everyone expected him to be when he came to UW three years ago.  

If the players do not meet the expectations set for them, it could be Romar's last year with the Huskies.

 

8. California

Ryan Anderson, 21.3 ppg and 10 rpg is gone to the NBA and it will show what an impact he had on the team last season.  Devon Hardin is also in the NBA meaning the Bears lose both of their big men.  

Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle both averageddoube digits in scoring, but neither of them have the ability to fill the shoes left by Anderson.  Both are solid basketball players, but they may be a year away from taking the Bears to the post season.  

Mike Montgomery has had 25 winning seasons in 26 years as a head coach, he will probably be stuck at 25 for at least another year.

 

9. Oregon

Ernie Kent has back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament.  Two years Aaron Brooks led the ducks to the Sweet 16.  Last season, seniors Maarty Leunen, Malik Hairston, and Bryce Taylor lost in the first round to Arkansas.  

Guard Taujan Porter struggled playing the point last season when Brooks graduated and is not much of a defender at 5'6.  True freshman Michael Dunigan and Matthew Humphrey will most likely contribute right away.  If Porter has trouble bringing the ball up again it could be a long season in a conference full of good guards.

 

10. Oregon State

New coach Craig Robinson could be wishing he stayed at Brown instead of taking the job of Head Beaver.  The biggest win for Robinson could come before the season starts if his brother-in-law Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States.  

However, whatever powers Obama may or may not get on November 4th wouldn't be enough for the Beavers to move up from the cellar of the Pac-10.  The Tarver brothers, Josh and Seth, are the only bright spots on a team that may not win a conference game for the second consecutive year.  

It will take a lot more than their combined 16.3 ppg to make any noise in the conference.


With the exception of UCLA and Arizona State at the top, and Oregon State at the bottom the rest of the conference has the ability to flip flop in the standings.  No team is too much better than the rest and there are so many variables that could change the outcome of the season.  
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