Pac-10 Season Preview, Part II: The Teams

Pac 10 floor small part II copy
Yesterday, we took a look at which players we think will end up with top honors in the Pac-10 this season. Today, we predict how the teams will fare against each other. /

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1. California – It KILLS me not to pick this Huskies up top, but this was a close race last season, and the Huskies have lost more than Cal has. Jerome Randle will compete (unsuccessfully, I think) for Player of the Year, as will Patrick Christopher, and potentially Theo Robertson as well. While the frontcourt is thin, Jamal Boykin brings experience and leadership, and 7’3″ Max Zhang and newcomer Markhuri Sanders-Frison will be sizable presences taking up space in the lane. While the Huskies will be more exciting to watch, and could be the better team by season’s end, Cal should be able to seal the deal in tight games from day one and gets our slight edge in the Pac-10 race.

2. Washington – It’s hard writing a capsule review on a team you cover every day, but here goes: When I revisit these picks in late December, right before the Pac-10 season begins, it’s likely that I’ll wish I’d put the Huskies at the top. But before I’m ready to do that, I want to see a few things: heralded freshman Abdul Gaddy lives up to the hype in game situations, someone (Elston Turner or Matthew Bryan-Amaning, perhaps) steps up as a legit third scoring option behind Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, and one or more of the big men take it upon themselves to do their best Jon Brockman impression on the glass. More equipped for a late run into March than Cal, the Dawgs will get my vote of confidence once they can shake off last year’s crushing defeat with a good showing on 1/16/10.

3. UCLA – So much talent, so little experience at UCLA this season. If some of the optimistic assumptions about the Bruins fail to come true (Malcolm Lee as a major offensive threat, Drew Gordon as a disciplined player worthy of starter’s minutes, Jerime Anderson as a point guard worthy of following in Darren Collison‘s footsteps), this could be UCLA’s worst team since 2003/04. The freshman class is the conference’s best though, and while Ben Howland isn’t used to having to lean on his youngsters quite this much, guys like Mike Moser, Tyler Honeycutt, or Brendan Lane could prove to be the Bruins’ saving grace in 2009/10.

4. Oregon – Worst to fourth? Quite possible in Eugene where Ernie Kent will try to save his job with a number of talented individuals who’ll strive to work themselves into a cohesive unit. If youngsters Mike Dunigan and dynamic freshman wing Jamil Wilson can gel with mainstays LeKendric Longmire, Joevan Catron, and star gunner Tajuan Porter, the Ducks could easily be the conference’s most improved team. Look for Dunigan, who lost a good deal of weight this offseason to improve on both sides of the ball and mature into one of the Pac-10’s best big men. The battle between seasoned transfer Malcolm Armstead and incumbent Garrett Sim to start as Porter’s backcourt mate should be an interesting early season storyline to follow.

5. Washington State – It’s not worth writing one of these previews if you’re not going to take a couple of reaches, right? Wazzu is my first reach, as I think they’ve got two players ready to make huge leaps, and a group of promising newcomers to compliment them. Klay Thompson makes scoring seem easy and is a darkhorse candidate to compete for Player of the Year. He may win a few games himself through sheer will this season. DeAngelo Casto just needs to develop a scowl and he’ll be ready to reign supreme as one of the best paint enforcers on the west coast. If backcourt newbies Reggie Moore and Xaiver Thames can contribute without too many growing pains, it’s possible that this thin squad could find themselves right on the cusp of bubbledom come Selection Sunday.

6. Oregon State – I’m always a little skeptical about a team without a true go-to guy. Sure, Calvin Haynes and big man Roeland Schaftenaar are quality players, but neither is likely to strike much fear into opponents. Forward Seth Tarver established himself as an occasional scoring threat late in the season, but I just can’t get with the many writers predicting big things for this Oregon State team behind Coach Craig Robinson this year. And, with recent news that freshman Roberto Nelson may not be eligible for some or all of this season, it’s hard to see a better finish than fifth, but I’m guessing that the Beavers slip into the bottom half of the conference.

7. USC – Plenty of ifs will need to break their way for USC to even finish this high, but: If Alex Stepheson can be the low-post force some expect him to be… If Marcus Simmons can play defense like he did during the Pac-10 Tournament… If Dwight Lewis can put it all together, and act like a leader on the court, but also in the locker room… If Leonard Washington can come back strong in the second half after his suspension… It’s likely that not all of these things will happen, but unlike some, I do think the talent is there for Southern Cal to put together something more than a pitiful season.

8. Arizona – This is my other reach, as it’s quite possible that Arizona’s talented group of freshman will end up coming together quickly under new coach Sean Miller. But, after Nic Wise, there’s so little to bank on here. And, even Wise will have to adjust to a lot more attention from the defense after serving as a great third option to big ‘Cats Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger last year. More will be expected out of Kyle Fogg, a sophomore guard who’s shown a nice shooting touch at times. And, junior forward Jamelle Horne may play a bigger role, but his very pedestrian 42.8% FG percentage last season tells me that he’s not up to the task. Instead, it will likely be one more of the newcomers, such as Solomon Hill, Derrick Williams, “Momo” Jones, or Kreal (Kyryl) Natyazkho, who’ll need to step up for Arizona to play at all this postseason, much less in the NCAA Tournament for the 26th straight year.

9. Arizona State – Until the recent indefinite suspension of Stanford’s Jeremy Green, I had ASU down for last in the Pac-10. Coach Herb Sendek will likely be forced to ask his team to play at a snail’s pace to minimize the number of possessions for each team and hope that a good night from point guard Derek Glasser, forward Rihards Kuksiks, or mercurial guard Ty Abbott, propels them to a win now and then. Glasser showed that he can hold his own as a starter on a good team last season, but he also had Jeff Pendergraph and James Harden on the receiving end of his passes. This year, Kuksiks (10.3 ppg last year) is the closest the Sun Devils will have to a go-to player. Unless one of the freshman, like forward Victor Rudd or swingman Trent Lockett, turn out to be true diaper dandies, ASU may be both bad and boring to watch.

10. Stanford – Things have gone from cloudy to downright gloomy over the course of this offseason for the Cardinal. Coach Johnny Dawkins lost his most heralded recruit for the whole season without ever seeing him play a game when Andy Brown tore his ACL for the second time. Then, guard Jeremy Green, one of last year’s top freshman in the league, was suspended for a domestic violence issue. Swingman Landry Fields will compete for All-Conference honors, and forward Josh Owens is the most promising thing going in Palo Alto and may develop into one of the Pac-10’s better post players. But, if Green doesn’t make it back from his suspension by the time Pac-10 play begins, it’s going to be difficult for Stanford to even hang in there against the conference’s better teams, and it’ll be hard to see the Cardinal winning more than two or three games in league play.