Pac-12 Reset As Conference Play Tips Off TonightPosted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011
Yesterday we looked back at non-conference play and picked out some of the highlights of the first couple months of the season. Today, as conference play gets ready to tip-off, we look forward to what we expect to happen from here until Selection Sunday. Prior to the start of the season, we took a guess at things like conference standings and All-Pac-12 teams based on limited information. Now, we’ve got twelve or thirteen games upon which to base our next set of guesses, but given the state of affairs in the conference so far, may be no closer to having a good idea what is going to happen from here on out than we were back in November. Nevertheless, here goes:
- California 13-5 – While every team in the conference is flawed, the Golden Bears are slightly less flawed than the rest, provided Richard Solomon can return from his injury, Harper Kamp can remain relatively healthy and freshman David Kravish continues to improve. Their quartet of guards (Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe, Justin Cobbs and Brandon Smith) is the best in the league and head coach Mike Montgomery has a way of squeezing every bit of production out of his players.
- Stanford 12-6 – Johnny Dawkins’ team will prove it is for real, but it may not have the experience or the single elite player capable of scoring with confidence in clutch situations to actually win the title. Chasson Randle or even Dwight Powell could grow into that type of player, but it may be a year or more away from happening. The Cardinal travel to Berkeley on the final day of the regular season in what could be a game rife with title implications.
- Arizona 12-6 – It seems like everybody is just waiting for Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson to turn it on, take over this team and turn the Wildcats into an explosive offensive force. They’re talented enough to make that happen, but 13 games into the season, it is looking like Solomon Hill, Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry are going to have to continue as the go-to guys for Sean Miller. And while those guys are nice players, they are all more suited to the role of contributors rather than stars, at least on teams who hope to win a conference title. However, the fact that the Wildcats only have to play Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon once each is definitely a bonus.
- Oregon State 11-7 – Craig Robinson’s has an exciting and young squad that may have only scratched the surface of its talent so far. However, given their history of losing games that they have no business losing, they’ve got to be in the same “prove-it” category that Stanford occupies. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if the quintet of Ahmad Starks, Jared Cunningham, Devon Collier, Joe Burton and Angus Brandt turns itself to be the most talented starting five in the conference.
- Washington 11-7 – Speaking of talent, Lorenzo Romar’s team has plenty, but unless they can find a way to get enough shots to satisfy Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox, a difficult proposition so long as the refs continue to only roll out one basketball, the Huskies could have chemistry problems all season long. That and their unwillingness to put in the required effort defensively could doom this talented squad to an NIT bid.
- UCLA 10-8 – Two years ago, Ben Howland saw his team lose to teams like Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State in the non-conference, posting a 5-7 record prior to Pac-10 play. There are a lot of similarities between that team and this one, but this year’s squad has a couple of things going in its favor: First, this is a better UCLA team than that one on both ends of the court; and second, this is a lesser conference than even the 2010 Pac-10, which only qualified two teams for the NCAA Tournament.
- Oregon 9-9 – Dana Altman is one of the better coaches in the league, but he’s got his work cut out for him this year. Last year’s Duck squad was nowhere near as talented as this one, but that team committed to the fundamentals, playing hard defense, forcing turnovers, and taking care of the ball offensively. This year, Oregon is a completely different animal as they are not great in any of those areas. We’ll call the Ducks a .500 team, but they’ve done little to earn even that much credit so far.
- Washington State 8-10 – The Cougars have been on fire since blowing a 14-point lead in the last seven minutes against UC Riverside a month ago, winning their last six games by over 22 points per game, although admittedly against subpar competition. Even better, they’re now fully healthy for the first time all season, and as such, Ken Bone and company have reason for genuine optimism. This is a team that can shoot the ball well and defend well, but they need to take better care of the ball and hit the glass harder on both ends of the court in order to earn an upper division finish. However, this is a team that can do that.
- Colorado 8-10 – The Buffaloes are another team capable of surprising people. Andre Roberson is inarguably the best rebounder in the conference and arguably its best athlete, while Carlon Brown, Austin Dufault and Nate Tomlinson provide solid and efficient senior leadership. Then there’s freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie who has been stroking it from deep and playing beyond his years. There is room for growth here, but Roberson needs to take the next step offensively, Tomlinson needs to find his missing jumper, and another talented freshman, Askia Booker, needs to become a contributor.
- USC 7-11 – The Trojans are really the first team in the conference that is simply beyond hope. There are some parts here – Aaron Fuller has been truly excellent absent a ton of help, Maurice Jones is a bundle of energy and fun to watch, and there are a handful of good youngsters – but head coach Kevin O’Neill not only doesn’t have the horses, he doesn’t have the ability in the huddle to get this team to overachieve.
- Arizona State 5-13 – Last year’s Sun Devil team went 4-14 in conference after winning three of its last five games. And really, this year’s team isn’t as good as last year’s. This year, Herb Sendek’s squad is turning the ball over on 25% of their possessions, sending their opponents to the free throw line far too often and is incapable of defending the three-point line. Five wins is generous, but it’s a bad conference, Keala King is improving on a game-by-game basis, and Trent Lockett and Carrick Felix are good all-around wings.
- Utah 2-16 – Picking the Utes to win two games in conference brings up an interesting question: which two? Yikes. Sorry, but even in a down year (and I mean way down), it is really hard to pick out a couple games this team can win. When Josh Watkins is using almost 39% of your possessions and Jason Washburn is using another 20%, you’ve got serious problems. Throw in the fact that this team can’t guard anybody (they’re giving up 1.16 points per possession against a pretty light schedule) and they’re going to have to bring some serious effort on a night when another bad team mails it in. Luckily, Larry Krystkowiak will have this team competing, and somebody like USC or Arizona State will be sure to overlook the lowly Utes a time or two.