Checking in on… the Pac-10Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2009
Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and Pac-10 Conferences.
Sometimes it’s not so painful to watch a once proud and mighty warrior fall from grace, as it is bizarre. You may be able to accept that nothing lasts forever, and that eventually the tide must turn. But it’s one thing to have a rebuilding year, and quite another to be a national laughingstock. Yet, that term best describes the way that Pac-10 teams have performed so far in this early season. It also describes the way that the conference’s flagship program, the UCLA Bruins, has performed so far in this early season. The Pac-10, we knew, was a conference in decline. But few predicted that the decline would be so far, so fast.
The conference’s two Top 25 teams have each suffered losses to unranked, seemingly-lesser teams. The conference was soundly beaten in this week’s Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge, losing each of Thursday night’s three games. In fact, until late Friday, the Pac-10 Conference has not won a single game since Monday night, when Arizona State defeated 0-5 Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Obviously it’s early in the season, and this is a conference that will play its best basketball later in the season, but the Pac-10 was considered mediocre among the power conferences this season and has instead looked dreadful, while the two teams that did possess national potential are obviously flawed and UCLA continues to trip all over itself. It’ll take a lot for the Pac-10 to rebuild its reputation this season, so let’s take a look at what’s transpired thus far.
- Washington State (6-1) – The Cougars have an attractive record because they haven’t played any good competition save for Gonzaga, who defeated WSU 74-69 on Tuesday. They get Kansas State this Saturday but then it doesn’t get any harder for them until December 22 against LSU, their only other test before the conference schedule begins.
- #10 Washington (5-1) – UW certainly didn’t look like the nation’s tenth-best team in last night’s loss to Texas Tech. The game was a thriller, but the Huskies had a chance to ice the game in regulation when Elston Turner missed two free throws in a tie game with 4.8 ticks remaining. The Dub needs more production from people not named Quincy Pondexter or Isaiah Thomas.
- Arizona State (6-1) – Definitely the surprise of the conference, as the Sun Devils’ only losses have been to Duke and Baylor, while Derek Glasser scores 12.3 points per game to lead three other teammates who put up double figures each night. Arizona State is holding opponents to a stingy 56.0 points per game.
- Oregon (4-2) – Those plucky Portland Pilots started their Pac-10 killing ways against Oregon back in November, but besides a hiccup against Montana the Ducks have looked convincing in their four wins. Small but mighty Tajuan Porter and friends will get a real test in Mizzou this Saturday,
- #25 California (4-3) – Say goodbye to your ranking, Berkeley faithful; three losses is just too many for a Top 25 team. The Bears definitely have the ability to earn their way back in, but a loss to New Mexico was the last straw. They should rebound, drawing Iowa State at home for their Big 12 matchup, but point guard Jerome Randle can’t carry this team by himself and needs backcourt mate Patrick Christopher to look like the potential pro we all thought he was.
- Stanford (4-3) – Not the conference’s best team, but definitely one that you need to watch out for. The Cardinal took Kentucky to overtime (really though, who hasn’t?) and has beaten the teams they should be beating. People laughed when I put Landry Fields in the All Conference First Team, and he responded by averaging 23.3 ppg and 9.1 boards through seven games. Thanks, Landry!
- Arizona (3-3) – Probably the toughest non-conference schedule of all Pac-10 teams with two opponents from the Big 12 and two from the Big 10, as well as an overtime loss to #24 UNLV. The conference’s best point guard may be Nic Wise and the Wildcats are primed to surprise some people this season.
- Oregon State (3-3) – Since the Beavers lost to Texas Tech by fewer points than Washington State did and beat Colorado for the first win in the Big 12/Pac 10 Hardwood Series, does that make Oregon State the better team? No. But the Beavers defeated George Washington and have two Big 12 opponents coming up. Still, this season is just a stepping stone as Craig Robinson teaches those kids how to win.
- USC (2-2) – No shame in losing to a Texas team ranked #2 in the nation on their home floor. Still, teams from the Pac-10 are expected to put up a fight. We’ll give the Trojans a slight pass because of the epic screw job that Tim Floyd crafted, plus brownie points for a very effective frontcourt thus far. If senior Dwight Lewis plays up to his potential, USC could play spoiler in the Pac-10, but doesn’t have what it takes to challenge for the conference. But hey, at least they’re not…
- UCLA (2-4) – Bruins, where do I even start with you? Your three-loss shutout in last weekend’s 76 Classic (basically in your backyard in Anaheim)? The sudden transfer of your best post player (Drew Gordon) and slap-happy arrest of your best deep threat (Nikola Dragovic)? The obvious lack of recruiting foresight that leads to ill-prepared players getting meaningful minutes? Yes, Gordon was an immature brat. Yes, your backcourt is full of sophomores. Yes, Portland is the real deal and you took Butler to the final seconds (let’s be honest, that says much more about Butler). But we all know you’re getting beat, and you’re going to continue to get beat this season. I ran into a longtime friend and former UCLA player at the 76 Classic last weekend, who said to me, “Michael Roll is our leading scorer.” Then he stared at me for ten seconds.
Upcoming Games to Watch.
- 12/5 – Oregon (4-2) at Missouri (4-2) – 5:00pm ESPN-U
- 12/5 – Washington State (6-1) at Kansas State (6-1) – 9:00pm ESPN-U
- 12/6 – #1 Kansas (6-0) at UCLA (2-4) – 5:30pm FSN
- 12/6 – Arizona (3-3) at Oklahoma (4-3) – 7:00pm ESPN-U
- 12/6 – Northridge (4-3) at #10 Washington (5-1) – 10:00pm
- 12/8 – Arizona State (6-2) at BYU (5-1) – 10:00pm
- 12/9 – #25 California (4-3) at Pacific (5-1) – 10:00pm