2009-10 Conference Primers: #6 – Pac-10Posted by rtmsf on November 2nd, 2009
Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and Pac-10 Conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- California (13-5)
- Washington (12-6)
- UCLA (11-7)
- Oregon (10-8)
- Arizona (10-8)
- Stanford (8-10)
- Oregon State (8-10)
- Washington State (7-11)
- Arizona State (6-12)
- USC (5-13)
- Nic Wise (G), Arizona
- Jerome Randle (G), Cal
- Patrick Christopher (F), Cal
- Landry Fields (F), Stanford
- Michael Dunigan (C), Oregon
Impact Newcomer. Abdul Gaddy (G), Washington
What You Need to Know. A legendary NCAA powerhouse, the Pac-10 Conference practically owned property in the Final Four in recent years. Last season, though, no team made it to the promised land with a flurry of budding superstars bolting for the NBA – leaving the Pac-10 fumbling to reload with a full clip. This season, the number of quality players is as high as ever, but they’re largely too young or inexperienced to consider the Pac-10 a national power this season. While UCLA and Arizona look to rebuild their storied histories from near scratch, only Washington and California return enough experienced talent to warrant much confidence, and its no coincidence that these two teams have been picked as preseason favorites to vie for the conference title.
Predicted Champion. California (NCAA Seed: #5) – Arizona attempts to begin a new legacy with the replacement of their iconic coach. UCLA starts from scratch after losing the core that took them to national heights. USC is facing stiff sanctions and has a tough season ahead of them after losing an array of stars. By comparison, California is a picture of consistency. The Bears return two all-conference first team players who will likely battle each other for POY honors this season. In Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher, Cal boasts two experienced leaders who can each carry the team when need be. Add to that a deep bench and the nation’s best shooters, and this team is built for a Pac-10 championship, and beyond…
Washington (NCAA Seed #5) – The Huskies are the epitome of a Pac-10 team this season, suffering the loss of some key players but with enough talent in the backcourt to send any opponent into a conniption. Sophomore shooting guard Isaiah Thomas single-handedly led Washington past Mississippi State in the NCAA Tourney, and nearly beat Purdue after that. Thomas and his squad earned a regular season championship and led the league in scoring – expect them to turn up the tempo even more with a smaller lineup this season.
UCLA (NCAA Seed #8) – The Bruins have to completely retool after finally running out of pieces from that ridiculous run of three straight Final Four appearances from 2006-08. They even lost freshman phenom Jrue Holiday, and seemingly have little to fall back on. But this isn’t a pity vote, by any means. The Bruins are still fearsome defenders thanks to coach Ben Howland’s trapping schemes, and Malcolm Lee has the talent to emerge as a superstar in the making at shooting guard.
December 3, 2009: USC @ Texas (ESPN, 6:00pm)
December 6, 2009: Kansas @ UCLA (FSN, 2:30pm)
December 6, 2009: Arizona @ Oklahoma (ESPNU, 4:00pm)
December 12, 2009: Georgetown @ Washington (FSN, 11:00am)
December 22, 2009: Cal @ Kansas (ESPN2, 6:00pm)
December 22, 2009: LSU @ Washington State (TBA)
Key Conference Games:
January 2, 2010: Arizona @ UCLA (CBS, 10:00am)
January 10, 2010: Oregon State @ Oregon (FSN, 7:30pm)
January 10, 2010: Washington @ Arizona (FSN, 10:30am)
January 16, 2010: California @ Washington (FSN, 11:30am)
February 20, 2010: UCLA @ Washington (ESPN 6:00pm)
Digging Deeper. Specifically, guards will rule this west coast kingdom. They’re a speedy, lethal bunch, whose teams will rely on them to handle a bulk of the scoring load along with ballhandling duties. California’s Jerome Randle is the popular choice for Pac-10 Player of the Year, with Arizona point guard Nic Wise not far behind. Washington sophomore Isaiah Thomas returns from his electrifying NCAA Tourney performance to join a bonafide star in freshman Abdul Gaddy in the Washington backcourt. Add a pinch of senior Oregon gunner Tajuan Porter and the probable emergence of UCLA sophomore Malcolm Lee as one of the conference’s best scorers. Make no mistake about it — in 2009-10, the Pac-10 will be won and lost in the backcourt.
Fun With KenPom. Believe it or not, last year the Pac-10 was KenPom’s #1 rated conference. The widely recognized #1 conference — the Big East — was hurt by the quartet of garbage at the bottom (St. John’s, Depaul, USF & Rutgers). There were only two bad teams in the Pac-10 last year, the comically bad Oregon Ducks and their much-improved rival, Oregon State Beavers. Every other of the eight Pac-10 teams finished in the top fifty (although exhibiting the balance of the league, none finished in the top ten).
NCAA Tournament History. The league is 235-156 (.601) all-time in the NCAA Tournament, which ranks fourth of the BCS leagues (ahead of the SEC and Big 12). UCLA, of course, leads the way with 11 national titles and 99 total wins, but did you know that nine of the ten teams have been to a Final Four in its history? The only team that has not yet been is Arizona State, who only recently started taking basketball seriously. Every Pac-10 team save one – Oregon State — has been to the Big Dance in the last decade. OSU hasn’t been invited since 1990!
Final Thoughts. The fight for the Pac-10 crown will likely come down to California’s head-to-head battles with Washington. Cal returns perhaps the conference’s two best players and all of their snipers from a team that led the nation in three-point shooting percentage last season. Washington won the conference title last season, and makes up for the loss of rebound machine Jon Brockman with even more backcourt speed. My philosophy in college basketball has always been to look for two things: senior leadership and stellar guardplay, and each team has a little of both. It’s a long drop to UCLA in the third spot… on paper. Don’t rule out anyone in this league. Every team has capable scorers and a history of lockdown defense (only one team allowed more than 69.5 points per game last season). The question will be whether the mid-level teams can perform consistently – if not, the experience and talent of Washington and California will win out. Still, I don’t see anybody being eager to draw a Pac-10 team in their bracket come March.