Pac-10 Season Preview, Part I: The Players

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It’s time for part I of the Montlake Madness 2009/10 Pac-10 Season Preview. Below are my picks for all of the postseason awards the conference will give out, and some explanation for why I’ve chosen the players I have. /

These guys won’t start battling it out with each other until the Pac-10 season begins on December 31st. But, with the season less than two weeks away, it’s time to look at the players and teams that will try to stop the Huskies from repeating as Pac-10 champions this season.

What do you think? Let me know your picks in the comments section or by email:

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SP - All pac 1 copy /
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SP - All pac 2 copy /

Why?: Oregon center Michael Dunigan was excellent last season, given the fact that he was a freshman, but only when he could stay on the court. If he can stay away from foul trouble and improve his conditioning, he (not Roeland Schaftenaar) should be the conference’s best true big man.

Why not?: Arizona State’s Derek Glasser just doesn’t have the ceiling to be significantly better than he was last year, which was “good,” but not all-conference. The scoring numbers will go up because someone besides sharpshooter Kuksiks has to put up some points, but it’ll be a result of taking more shots, not playing at a higher level.

Why?: Klay Thompson, with his sweet stroke and super pedigree, is a candidate to lead the league in scoring this season now that Wazzu will run Ken Bone’s less-deliberate offense.

Why not?: Cal forward Theo Robertson will undoubtedly be good again this season. Likely, very good. But, if you’re Mike Montgomery, who also has Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher to score from the wing, you’re probably looking at your disappointing exit from last year’s NCAA Tournament and considering how to broaden your attack. My sense is that Robertson’s numbers suffer most as Cal tries to feed its thin frontcourt more regularly on its way to a solid finish in the Pac-10.

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Why?: New WSU point guard Thames will likely be the starter soon, if not right away. While he won’t make the impact Abdul Gaddy should at UW, Thames is another big point (6’3″) who can score, but really understands the idea of being a distributor. Look for Thames and Gaddy to have some epic battles over the next two seasons.

Why not?: Someone from UCLA’s talented group of frosh will make a name for himself, but who? Tyler Honeycutt the most polished of the group is recovering from a back fracture? 6’8″ Mike Moser, who’s too thin for the post, but not the shooter he needs to be to play the wing? Or, hard-nosed Reeves Nelson who needs polish, but reminds some people of Jon Brockman? Too hard to tell at this point which of these guys, or the other freshman on the Bruin roster, will thrive.

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Why?: It’s time for some recognition for Justin Holiday. Strangely, I think it’ll take Justin putting a few more points (and rebounds) into the box score for the guys covering the Pac-10 to appreciate his effort, hustle and effectiveness on the defensive side of the ball.

Why not?: It was hard not also putting Quincy Pondexter into this group, as I think he’ll likely deserve the accolade as well, just not quite as much as the other five.

Coach of the Year – Ernie Kent, Oregon: All it’s going to take from Kent’s plucky Ducks is a finish in the top half of the conference to shock the world (well, the Pac-10, at least). You’ll see where I pick the Ducks in part II of this preview, but I’m guessing that Kent brings this unheralded mix of weathered veterans and dynamic youngsters back to the NCAA Tournament.

Most Improved – Malcolm Lee, UCLA: Lee, who averaged just three points per game last season in a crowded UCLA backcourt (Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday, Josh Shipp), is the trendy pick to score big in Westwood this season. He should have no such trouble carving out playing time as the two-guard job is his. It’s likely that the high expectations this über-athlete came in with (as a top-50 recruit and early 2011 lottery prediction) will bear fruit this year.

Defensive Player of the Year – Alex Stepheson, USC: The word on UNC transfer Stepheson is that he’s an absolute beast in the paint on both ends. You’ll see that we also picked him for All Pac-10 First Team, (I also picked him for a starting spot on my college hoops fantasy team) and he’s the reason I think people may be slightly underrating USC this season.)

Freshman of the Year – Abdul Gaddy, UW: The Gaddy era at starts now at UW, and while it may be only two seasons long, he has a chance to be one of the best point guards in the country during that time. While replacing Jon Brockman will be impossible, a very strong freshman season by Gaddy, who will have the ball in his hands on most offensive possessions, is the only way for the team not to miss a beat.

Player of the Year – Quincy Pondexter, UW: One recent Pac-10 preview picked Q-Pon as the most underrated player in the league. I agree with that wholeheartedly, and so will the league after Pondexter has a monster season. A 20/10 (points/rebounds) season isn’t out of reach, which, coupled with UW finishing near the top of the conference, should mean Quincy leaves school with some nice hardware.

And a prediction…

The Pac-10 won’t send nine players to the NBA Draft again this season, but it could be closer than a lot of people think. predicts three Pac-10 players will be drafted (Quincy Pondexter, Patrick Christopher, Dwight Lewis) — all in the second round. But, it’s not out of the question that Nic Wise could play his way in as well. And, if some of the league’s underclassmen, like Michael Dunigan, Malcolm Lee, Klay Thompson, or (gasp!) Isaiah Thomas leave early, the league might not be quite so poorly represented come June.

Thanks for coming! Part II coming up soon!