There are no two ways around it, so we might as well get right to the punch: The past three seasons at UCLA, even with an NCAA Tournament appearance and win in 2010-11, is in the conversation for the worst stretch of three consecutive seasons in the history of the storied program. Aside from the transition at the end of the Steve Lavin era to the beginning of the Ben Howland era, you have to go back to Wilbur Johns in the World War II era for a string of three such poor seasons in Westwood. All that is bad enough, but if you consider where this program was at the end of the 2007-08 season, coming off three consecutive Final Fours and welcoming in the nation’s #1 recruiting class, such a precipitous fall was highly unlikely.
It Has Been Four Unsatisfying Seasons Since Kevin Love Helped UCLA Last Advance to A Final Four (Mark J. Terril, AP Photo)
So how did Howland and the Bruins go from being on the verge of ushering another great era of UCLA basketball to missing the NCAA Tournament in two out of three seasons? Much of it has to do with underachievement from that 2008 recruiting class. In the 2008-09 season, after future pros like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute departed early (a certain byproduct of the type of success the Bruins were having), the Bruins rode gutsy performances by veterans like Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya to a solid 26-9 overall record, but failed to win the Pac-10 for the first time in three years and were bounced from the NCAA Tournament in resounding fashion by a Villanova team that outhustled and outfought the Bruins. More ominous for UCLA was the fact that none of the highly-regarded freshman class made much of an impact that season. And despite point guard Jrue Holiday’s struggles as a frosh, he couldn’t get out of Westwood fast enough, declaring for the NBA Draft while averaging just eight points and four assists in his lone season.
Thanks to Vegas Watch for providing these graphs that measure the moving average of a team’s spread (moving avg.) over time vs. the spread for each individual game (indiv). If a team’s moving average is higher than zero, then Vegas currently has a higher opinion of them than Pomeroy, and vice versa.
Location: Los Angeles, CA Conference: Pac 10 Coach: Ben Howland, 149-53 08-09 Record: 25-8 (13-5 in the Pac 10) Last 12 Games: 8-4 Best Win: 85-76 vs. Washington, February 19 Worst Loss: 82-81 vs. Washington St., February 21 Off. Efficiency Rating: 121.2, 3rd Def. Efficiency Rating: 92.5, 40th
Nuts ‘n Bolts
Star Player(s): Darren Collison, PG, senior- 14.8 points, 5.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 54% FG, 92% FT; Josh Shipp, SF, senior- 14.4 points, 1.3 steals, 51% FG, 44% 3PT Unsung Hero: Alfred Aboya, C, senior- 10.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 58% FG Potential NBA Draft Pick(s): Darren Collison, 1st round, 24th overall Key Injuries: None Depth: 31% (165th nationally); percentage of minutes played by payers coming off the bench Achilles Heel: 250th out of 330 in field goal percentage defense Will Make a Deep Run if…: Jrue Holiday steps up his game on both ends of the court and the perimeter defense improves, while the Bruins continue to shoot at the 50.6% that leads the nation. Will Make an Early Exit if…: The perimeter defense allows easy penetration so opponents shoot at a high percentage and Alfred Aboya gets in foul trouble early.
Last Year Invited: 2008, Final Four (Lost to Memphis) Streak: 4 consecutive years Best NCAA Finish: National champions 11 times, 1995 most recent Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present): +0.31. UCLA wins 0.31 more games on average each year than would be expected based on this historical performance of teams with a similar seed.
Six Degrees to Detroit: UCLA has played a team from the state of Michigan in every year since 2002. Distance to First Round Site: 2,709 (Philadelphia, PA) School’s Claim to Fame: UCLA has more applicants than any other school in the country and counts Jack Black, Francis Ford Coppola, James Dean, Will Forte, James Franco, Heather Locklear, Rob Reiner and Ben Stiller among its enterainment alumni. School Wishes It Could Forget: Their loss to Princeton in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament as defending champions. Prediction: Can the Bruins make it to a fourth consecutive Final Four if a couple higher seeds in their bracket are upset? Sure, but a Sweet 16 appearance sounds like a better guess, which isn’t too bad for a down year. Is it?
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.
Pac-10 Final Regular Season Standings
1. Washington 14-4, 24-7
2. UCLA 13-5, 24-7
3. Arizona State 11-7, 22-8
4. California 11-7, 22-9
5. Arizona 9-9, 19-12
6. USC 9-9, 18-12
7. Washington State 8-10, 16-14
8. Oregon State 7-11, 13-16
9. Stanford 6-12, 17-12
10. Oregon 2-16, 8-22
Player of the Year: James Harden
The third sophomore in Pac-10 history to win player of the year. The others were Jason Kidd (1994) and Mike Bibby (1998). Harden is also the third ASU player to win it following Ike Diogu (2005) and Eddie House (2000).
Freshman of the Year: Isaiah Thomas
Thomas set the freshman scoring record for Washington with 477 points and is the fourth Husky to win the award.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.
News & Notes
Washington has clinched their first regular season Pac-10 title since 1985 and with a win against Washington State can clinch their first outright conference title since 1953.
Washington State’s first senior class of Taylor Rochestie, Aron Baynes, Caleb Forest, and Daven Harmeling is its first to defeat all nine Pac-10 rivals since 1989.
Darren Collison is shooting 91.8 percent (89-for-97) from the free-throw line this year good for second in the nation, and second on the UCLA all-time single-season chart.
It may not make Oregon feel any better, but Pomeroy College Basketball ranks Oregon’s schedule as the toughest in the nation.
Some three-point information
California still leads the nation in three-point accuracy, at 43.9 percent.
Junior guard Jerome Randle is two shy of the team record 68 set by Ryan Drew in 1990.
Theo Robertson has hit 52.2 percent of his three-point attempts this year which would be the highest in school history, and is first in California career percentage at 44.3.
Junior guard Tajuan Porter of Oregon is second all time in team history in three-pointers made with 269. The leader is Orlando Williams with 282.
Player of the week: Jon Brockman
Brockman scored 17.5 points per game and pulled down 10.5 rebounds in the two victories for Washington this past week. Brockman came up big in overtime against ASU scoring the first two baskets.
Freshman Klay Thompson scored 16.5 points per game this past week fueled in part by 7-for-15 shooting from three-point range. Thompson also pulled down seven rebounds in the victory over Arizona State. Darren Collison scored 14.5 points a game for UCLA in the past week when the Bruins bounced back with two wins. He also posted five assists a game. Arizona was winless this past week, but could not find much fault in Jordan Hill who averaged 21 points, and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.
News & Notes
Lute Olson compiled a 43-6 record against Arizona State. Since he took a leave of absence last year, Arizona is 0-4 against the Sun Devils.
Against ASU, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, and Nic Wise all logged 40 minutes. For the year the three are each averaging over 35 minutes a game. They are the only team in the Pac-10 with three players averaging over 35 minutes a game. Come Pac-10 tournament time these three horses have to be tiring.
Oregon State swept the season series against Cal for the first time since the 1994-95 season.
Jerome Randle has 59 three-pointers this season putting him 9 shy of the school season record 68 set by Ryan Drew in 1990. With four games left and Randle averaging over two a game he stands a fighting chance at overtaking Drew.
Washington State’s win at UCLA last week was only their second win in their 53 games at Pauley Pavilion.
The battle for coach of the year in the Pac-10 has four solid candidates. With the jobs Mike Montgomery, Russ Pennell, Craig Robinson, and Lorenzo Romar have done, there is an excess of candidates to choose from.
Pennell is the front-runner right now in my mind. He turned this Arizona team around and has them at 8-6 in the Pac-10 and 18-9 overall. He was the second choice for interim coach in late October. Last year he did color commentary for Arizona State radio network.
Jon Brockman is the only mid-season candidate for the Naismith trophy from the Pac-10.
Player of the week: Taylor Rochestie
Rochestie scored 24.5 points a game for Washington State this week. Rochestie also averaged five rebounds and four assists a game. Rochestie scored 33 points in WSU’s upset of UCLA. He shot 5-for-7 from three-point range and a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw stripe.
Honorable Mention: Darren Collison and Rihards Kuksiks
Collison scored 18.5 points and averaged 6.5 assists for UCLA this past week. Collison went a perfect 7-for-7 from the line in the two games. Kuksiks scored 17 points in Arizona State’s win this week. Kuksiks scored 15 of those on five three-pointers.
Weekend Wrap. We did a pretty good job of keeping up with most of this weekend’s key games in semi-real time in our Boom Goes the Dynamite series (Saturday and Sunday), so with this weekend’s ATB we decided to test our viewing comprehension and determine what we learned over two days of high-level hoops.
The Mess in the Middle of the ACC. The Noles’ comeback win at Clemson put them at 5-3 in the conference, tied with Wake, Clemson and Virginia Tech at the halfway point. Throw in Miami (4-6), who lost a heartbreaker at Duke but proved itself as more than capable in its previous outing against Wake last week, and you’ve got five ACC teams (Maryland too) fighting for anywhere from 2-4 more bids to the NCAA Tournament. All but Maryland already have a marquee win and everyone but the Terps also have a top 50 RPI rating. BC, with only two road games remaining, and Miami, with only one game left against the top four of UNC, Duke, Wake, and Clemson, appear most well positioned to take advantage down the stretch.
Marquette is a good, not great, team. The Golden Eagles benefited from a fortuitous Big East slate of opponents that averages #85 in KenPom’s ratings to date, with their best wins coming against Villanova and WVU at home. Regardless of South Florida’s upset win on Friday night, their fortunes were poised to change, as six of their final eight games are against the KenPom top 35, four of which are on the road. We love how Jerel McNeal is playing, and Buzz Williams should be commended for their 20-3 (9-1) record, but we’re afraid that their marginally effective defense will catch up with them in the last few weeks of the season.
Short of a miracle run, Georgetown and Notre Dame are officially DOA. ND’s best win all season is a one-point win over Texas in Maui, and it’s second-best win? Probably fellow Big East swooner Georgetown. The Irish have dropped seven Big East games in a row in all shapes and sizes, its RPI is at 81, and they just got humiliated on national tv by UCLA (including a putrid 5/1 effort from their usually consistent dub-dub machine, Luke Harangody). So what’s wrong? Put simply, they don’t play defense: the Irish are currently ranked #276 in the nation. At 3-7 in the Big East, ND has eight more games to turn this wreck around, and they probably need to win a minimum of six of those to just get back on the bubble. Highly unlikely. In our mind, the Georgetown collapse is even more confounding because of the pieces they have on that team with Wright, Summers and Monroe. Still, the Hoyas have dropped six of seven after their OT loss vs. Cincy on Saturday, and sit barely above ND in the conference standings (4-7). There are seven games remaining on their schedule, and JT3′s team must win all three against the bottom-dwellers and split the remainder to get to 9-9. With a strongish RPI (36), Georgetown is in better shape than its Catholic friends to the west, but the Hoyas simply cannot afford another slip-up (and in fact, they need a couple of upsets down the stretch to feel safe).
UCLA is showing signs of making another run. Behind Alfred Aboya’s rise (15/8 over his last four games), the Bruins suddenly have the look of a team where things are starting to click for Ben Howland. The upcoming road trip to the Arizona schools may tell the tale, but UCLA’s last four opponents were beaten down with highly efficient offense. You can always count on UCLA to defend, so what might stand in the way of a fourth straight trip to the Final Four for UCLA? Probably only the lack of a go-to scorer who they can count on for instant points. Regardless, those who wrote off UCLA around midseason will likely regret that decision.
Memphis shouldn’t be forgotten. It was easy to write off John Calipari’s Tigers after losing all the players they lost from last year’s national runner-up team, but much like Bill Self’s Kansas team, there were plenty of pieces on that bench to make another run. We don’t expect this version of Memphis to make it back to the F4, but they could definitely play into the regional round. Their dismantling of Gonzaga in Spokane Saturday night was nothing short of masterful. Gonzaga hadn’t seen defense like that all year long (incl. Connecticut), and they’re getting just enough offense from the troika of Tyreke Evans, Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier to keep teams honest. Watch out for this Memphis team next month.
Indiana suspended their best player Devan Dumes for his elbow-happiness during Saturday’s game with Michigan St. On video review, he was spotted Chris Pauling Goran Suton on their way upcourt (see below).
On Tap Monday (all times EST). Just a couple of Big Monday game border wars.
West Virginia @ Pittsburgh (ESPN) – 7pm. In the last matchup, a 12-pt win by Pitt on 1/25, the Panthers hit 55% behind Sam Young’s 22 and Dejuan Blair’s 16/11. As long as DB is on the floor, the Panthers should be ok in this one.
Kansas @ Missouri (ESPN) – 9pm. KU brings its 8-0 Big 12 record to Columbia, where Mizzou if 14-0 and it’s clear that Mike Anderson has finally turned the corner with his style of play there. While we know that Kansas isn’t anywhere near as good as last year’s team, they’re playing very well and Mizzou will have to bring its best tomorrow night to get this win.
Keep an eye out for RTC Live returning on Tuesday night of this week, as Clemson visits Boston College at 9pm EST. Rush the Court will be courtside live-blogging the game, and you will have a chance to submit questions so that we can ask coaches and players whatever you like. Yes, you will even be able to ask Oliver Purnell to explain his reaction to this atrocity.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.
News and Notes
Arizona State‘s Rihards Kuksiks leads the nation in 3-point percentage, but is only third in the Pac-10. How is that possible? Well NCAA statistical leaders need to make a minimum of 2.5 per game from three-point range to qualify, while Pac-10 needs to make one per game and play in 75 percent of the team’s games. Theo Robertson is shooting 56.2% and Michael Roll is shooting 54.5%, both ahead of Kuksiks’s 46.7%. Either way Kuksiks has had a tough time the past two games going 3-for-20 from behind the arc.
Ben Howland‘s 13-4 record against California is his best against any team in the Pac-10.
UCLA’s recent victory over Stanford was UCLA’s largest victory over Stanford at Pauley Pavilion in over 30 years. It was also UCLA’s highest scoring game under Howland. UCLA shot 73% from 3-point range and only 62% from the free throw line. Maybe they should start taking their foul shots from behind the arc.
California, the best three-point shooting team in the nation at 47%, shot 2-for-16 from three-point range against USC.
UCLA dominated teams this week. The Bruins went 3-0 with average margin of victory over 21 points.
Darren Collison, who earlier this year broke the UCLA record for consecutive free-throws with 43, is shooting 94.4% from the line, which leads the nation.
Craig Robinson has turned it around for Oregon State. The Beavers have four wins in the first half of the Pac-10 schedule for the first time since 2002-03.
After another week of ups and downs in the Pac-10, there are really only two locks for the tournament at this point: UCLA and Washington. Four others (Arizona, Arizona State, California, and USC) still have work to do.
Feasting on a feastly week of hoops… here’s the news…
Remember 73-yr old Ken Mink’s first game where he scored two points? We wondered who and how he could possibly get fouled?!? Believe it or not, watch the video here of this CBS News report where Mink pump-fakes on the wing and gets hammered by some 19-year old defender (#23) who never learned to properly close out on shooters.
Loyola Marymount head coach Bill Bayno is taking a leave of absence from his position, effective immediately, due to an undisclosed medical condition.
UCLA’s Alfred Aboya didn’t break his hand in Friday’s game against SIU, but SIU’s Nick Evans did (out 4-6 weeks).
Another blow for St. John’s basketball – their best player Anthony Mason, Jr is out for the year with a torn tendon is his foot (ouch).
The 2009 Maui began today, but the 2010 field is already set with: UConn, Kentucky, Washington, Wichita St., Michigan St., Oklahoma, Virginia and Chaminade.
Game of the Day.Xavier 63, Virginia Tech 62 (OT). This ending was almost as ridiculous as the Brandon Roy nonsense from a couple of weeks ago. After it appeared the Va Tech had won the game on a layup by Jeff Allen with under three seconds remaining, Xavier threw it up ahead to Dante Jackson, who at that point was 0-8 with 2 pts in the game. So of course he throws in a bank shot from 50 feet to win (see below). This was easily the best game-winner of the young season, and will probably be in the running for best of the season this year. XU’s Derrick Brown led the Musketeers with 16/6, but Va Tech may not have been in that position if their star had shown up on the offensive end – AJ Vassallo had a mere 4 pts on 2-13 (0-6 3FG) shooting, 15 pts below his average. At least he stepped it up otherwise, though, with 10 rebs and 8 assts.
Duke 71, Michigan 56. Hey, Duke won another tournament title at Madison Square Garden! Never seen that before! Coach K is only 94-10 in November at Duke, so if you didn’t see this one coming, then you haven’t watched college basketball in the last three decades. It got us wondering, how many of these tourneys has Coach K won over the years? Surpisingly, he’s only won three of the five PNITs that he’s been in (1985, 2000, 2008) – sure feels like more. The Blue Devils relied on a balanced attack–both in terms of depth and playing both halfs (looking at you Henderson and Singler)–to vault themselves into a #1 seed in everyone’s Week 3 NCAA tournament mock bracket. On the other side, John Beilein and the Wolverine faithful should leave New York City happy though as their win over #4 (not for long) UCLA has served noticed that the Wolverines should be significantly better than last season’s 10-22 record. Perhaps the biggest thing last night’s win over UCLA may have done is make more recruits think about heading up to Ann Arbor so one day Beilein can start more Manny Harrises (game-high 25 points) and less. . .well everybody else on his team. We may find out just how far along these Wolverines have come on December 6th when they get a rematch against Duke in Ann Arbor.
UCLA 77, S. Illinois 60. UCLA improved its east coast record to 2-3 under Howland by pulling away from SIU in the last quarter of this game today. The Bruins relied on a 20-2 second half run to win this game. This trip to MSG should be a useful motivation tool for Ben Howland to motivate his team, which is made up of hyped freshmen and remnants of a team that has made 3 straight Final 4s. The Bruins relied on their veteran leaders (Alfred Aboya, Josh Shipp, and Darren Collison) to win the game as that trio combined for 49 of the Bruins’ 77 points. If Howland is going to make a 4th consecutive trip to the Final 4, his freshmen will have to grow up fast.
More Paradise Jammation.
Miami (FL) 70, Southern Miss 60. Honestly, I’m more interested in what Larry Eustachy was doing between games in the Virgin Islands than this game. However, I suspect that most of you are here for some keen insight into the game. Cliffs Notes summary: Lance Hurdle led the Canes to a victory despite an off night from Jack McClinton. I wouldn’t read too much into this game as a top 25 team should win games against teams like Southern Miss fairly easily, but it is still November so I’ll give The U the benefit of the doubt tonight, but they will have to step it up when they face the winner of. . .
UConn 89, Lasalle 81. Speaking of teams that didn’t quite play up to expectations, #2 UConn struggled to put away LaSalle, a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team. Jim Calhoun got big games out of Kemba Walker and Jeff Adrien to avoid the huge upset against the Explorers (seriously, what kind of nickname is that?) who shot 50% from the field. However, the biggest story of the night (other than Psycho T returning) was the return of A.J. Price, who was solid if not spectacular in his return. In a related story, Price maybe getting a Facebook invite from Cameron Newton that is assuming, um, Newton can find a computer to log onto the site.
USC 73, UT-Chattanooga 46. It’s the return of Taj Gibson who was AWOL for much of last season (I’m not sure who to name that type of performance after–Taj Gibson or Steve Slaton? We’re a college basketball site, so I’ll go with “pulling a Taj Gibson”.) Gibson paced the Trojans with 17 points and 15 rebounds. For the adolescent girl demographic, the big news of the night was that Lil Romeo took his first college shot. . .and missed.
San Diego, 73, Valparaiso 66. The Toreros were led by center Gyno Pomare’s 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Toreros, who knocked off UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year as a #13 seed face the winner of. . .
Wisconsin 60, Iona 58 (OT). The 25th-ranked Badgers snuck by the Gaels behind 21 points from Trevon Hughes. Somehow, the Badgers won despite going 15 of 48 (31.2%) from the field. So basically, it was a typical Bo Ryan win. I can’t wait to put my Big 10 TV channel to use this year.
Other Games of Mild Interest.
Utah 83, Ole Miss 72. The SEC is now 21-7 with losses to Mercer (x2), VMI, Utah, Illinois, Loyola (IL), and UNC. Other than UNC, not exactly murderer’s row there.
Syracuse 86, Oakland 66. Jonny Flynn brought 18/4 off the bench to assist four others in double figures, but most importantly, SU held Oakland’s Johnathan Jones to 7-23 shooting and only 16 pts.
Pitt 86, Akron 67. I’ll just leave you with this quote from Akron coach Keith Dambrot about Sam Young:
Sam Young physically reminds me of LeBron. Obviously, he’s not as good a player as LeBron, but he’s got that quick-twitch strength and ability to put the ball down. He’s a tough matchup.
I will be waiting to see Young try LeBron’s patented bullrush to/through the basket this year.
Davidson 97, Winthrop 70. Stephen Curry with a ho-hum 30 points and 13 assists. The bigger news for Bob McKillop is the 20 and 15 from Andrew Lovedale. If the Wildcats can get a legitimate inside game going this year, they could be an extremely tough out in March with Curry bombing away from outside.
Memphis 84, Seton Hall 70. Not much to say here. Memphis took an early lead and never looked back. One interesting stat: 30/46 or 65.2%. I’ll let you guess what that represents. (Hint: Don’t ask John Calipari about it.)
Maryland 89, Vermont 74 (OT). That’s not a typo. The Terrapins outscored the Catamounts 17-2 in the 5-minute OT period. I think even Gary Williams will have to be happy with how his team finished the game. He may be a little pissed off about the other 40 minutes though. . .
Tennessee 76, MTSU 66. A thoroughly unimpressive win for the Volunteers. Do top 25 teams really struggle to put away Middle Tennessee State?
WYN2K. This is not the same Pac-10 conference as last year, plain and simple. Gone are lottery picks OJ Mayo (USC), Russell Westbrook (UCLA), Kevin Love (UCLA), Brook Lopez (Stanford) and Jerryd Bayless (Arizona). Gone are Robin Lopez (Stanford) and Ryan Anderson (Cal), also first-rounders. Gone are Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (UCLA) and Davon Jefferson (USC), who went in the second round and not at all, respectively. This year’s Pac-10 transition isn’t just limited to players. There are new coaches at Oregon St. (Craig Robinson), Stanford (Johnny Dawkins), Cal (Mike Montgomery) and Arizona (Russ Pennell). It’s safe to say that no other major conference will look as significantly different from last year as the Pac-10 in 2008-09.
Predicted Champion.UCLA (NCAA #1). Perhaps the only consistency in the Pac-10 this year will be he continued dominance of Ben Howland’s UCLA Bruins over the rest of this conference. After three straight Final Fours and another superb recruiting class matriculating in Westwood, Howland has built his program to the enviable point where he can lose two lottery picks and another starter as early entries to the NBA Draft and not expect his program to suffer major slippage. While we don’t believe that this version of UCLA will be as good of a team as the 2007-08 edition, the Bruins’ position relative to the rest of the conference may actually be stronger this time around. He returns an all-american PG, Darren Collison, who has played in three F4s and led the nation in 3FG% last year (.525, min. 80 attempts). More importantly, Collison has a chip on his shoulder after a miserable national semifinal performance against Memphis last year (2 pts, 5 tos, 5 fouls) - when he’s directing his team effectively, there are few teams in America that can overcome their bruising defense and efficient offense. The national #1 recruiting class is headlined by all-world guard Jrue Holiday, who is expected to start from day one. His talent, along with a cadre of perimeter (Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson) and inside players (J’Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon), will give Howland numerous lineup options to throw at opponents. Furthermore, UCLA returns a finally-healthy Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya to provide experience and a steady hand at crunch time. As we said before, we don’t believe this UCLA team will be as good as last year’s squad, but it probably doesn’t have to be. The Pac-10 has dropped in talent significantly, and UCLA should be able to roll through to another fantastic record and possible high RPI rating to garner another #1 seed out west. Here’s a pretty good indication of why Darren Collison is so important for this team.
NCAA Teams. We’re not sure that we see more than four NCAA teams in the Pac-10 this year, which sent six to the Big Dance last season and arguably deserved seven (Arizona St.). In the best-case scenario, things come together for certain teams and the league hopes for five on Selection Sunday, but there’s a more realistic chance that there will only be three NCAA selections made on that day.
Arizona St.(NCAA #4) – Herb Sendek’s coaching resume shows that once he gets a program to the 20-win plateau for the first time, it typically stays there. In other words, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that ASU, who is returning its top eight players from a 21-13 NIT quarterfinalist, will regress this season. The key player, of course, is James Harden, a coulda-been-one-and-done, who lit up the conference for 18/5/3 assts, including 41% from behind the arc (and 53% overall). Harden is a future lottery pick in a league where the only other potential such picks are freshmen (DeRozan, Holiday). Pac-10 teams are not going to enjoy their trips to Tempe this year.
USC(NCAA #8) – We struggled in making this selection, but the thing that pushes USC into the top three of the Pac-10 is simply, talent. Other than UCLA, no other program has as much pure talent that it can put on the floor. Undisciplined, maddening talent – sure – but that’s Tim Floyd for ya. Demar DeRozan wll be a highlight reel for his one year in LA, but he has considerable help next to him, assuming they can all learn to share the ball and play together. Daniel Hackett, Taj Gibson and Dwight Lewis are all talented players, and if UNC transfer Alex Stepheson is deemed eligible to play for the Trojans this year, USC has enough talent to make a run at the Pac-10 title. We don’t expect that to happen because Ben Howland is Ben Howland and Tim Floyd is Tim Floyd, but the talent differential excuse doesn’t hold water anymore.
Washington St.(NCAA #10) – We’re taking a bit of a risk with Wazzu at fourth and a bubble team for the NCAAs, but we truly believe that Tony Bennett is a system coach. Like Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, the names on the backs of the jerseys are largely irrelevant to the success of the program. They’re going to run their slower-than-Xmas stuff no matter which faces are running around out there, and in so doing, dare the rest of the Pac-10 to figure it out. Now we’re not saying that the losses of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill won’t hurt – after all, that trio was the most decorated group of players in Washington St. history; but with center Aron Baynes returning along with guard Taylor Rochestie and small forward Daven Harmerling, Bennett has more than enough experience to continue confounding skeptics up in Pullman.
Washington (NIT) – This program has seemed to be in a funk ever since Brandon Roy left the dreary environs of Seattle. If the Huskies are going to take advantage of a weaker Pac-10 to make a run at the NCAA Tournament (or the NIT), they’re going to have to get another superb season from PF Jon Brockman (18/12 on 54% FG). But that won’t be enough without improved performances from Quincy Pondexter and Justin Dentmon on the perimeter. Freshman Isaiah Thomas is getting some hype from Husky fans – perhaps he can push them over the top.
California – The story here is obviously Mike Montgomery’s return to college coaching at his former employer’s bitterest rival. Had Cal held onto star player Ryan Anderson, we would have considered the Bears as a bubble NCAA team. We do think Monty will get there eventually, as he did at Long Beach St. and Stanford (not exactly powerhouses when he arrived), but he’s not a quick-fix guy and it will take time to undo the culture of mediocrity left by Ben Braun.
Arizona – On talent alone, with Chase Budinger, Nic Wise and Jordan Hill, the Wildcats should be a top three Pac-10 team. However, with the fiasco that unfolded last month and the eyebrow-raising hire of the fomer Arizona State radio announcerRuss Pennell as the head coach, we’re not sure anyone will actually want to play for UA this season. Putting them seventh was a gift.
Oregon – We still can’t figure out how Ernie Kent got a big contract extension, but we suppose it doesn’t take much to satisfy people in Eugene. At least until Mark Few takes an interest in coaching in the Pac-10. With only one significant player returning, the 5’6 Tajuan Porter, and nine new faces, we just don’t see the Ducks making a return trip to the NCAAs this season.
Stanford – We think Johnny Dawkins is in for a surprise in Palo Alto this season. Nobody has any clue as to how good of a coach he will be, but we can say with a degree of certainty that the only thing keeping the Cardinal afloat last year was the interior presence of the comical Lopez twins. The guardplay was relatively abysmal (39.5% shooting), and oh, well, now the Lopezes are gone. Good luck with that, JD.
Oregon St. – Hey, did you guys hear that new head coach Craig Robinson is Barack Obama’s bro-in-law? Wehadn’teither. Screw Corvallis, with Robinson’s financial resume, he should be in DC helping Barry fix the economy. Seriously though, last year, OSU might have been the worst major conference team we’d ever seen (Indiana has a shot at bettering that this year). Ferguson had success at Brown, though, which is a herculean task in its own right, so maybe he can get a few Ws in Corvallis this season. Three or four would be miraculous.
Washington v. Kansas (11.24.08)
UCLA @ Texas (12.04.08)
USC @ Oklahoma (12.04.08)
Arizona @ Texas A&M (12.05.08)
Gonzaga @ Washington St. (12.10.08)
Arizona v. Gonzaga (12.14.08)
Kansas @ Arizona (12.23.08)
Notre Dame @ UCLA (02.07.09)
UCLA @ USC (01.11.09)
Arizona St. @ UCLA (01.17.09)
USC @ Washington St. (01.24.09)
USC @ UCLA (02.04.09)
USC @ Arizona St. (02.15.09)
Washington @ UCLA (02.19.09)
Arizonan @ Arizona St. (02.22.09)
Neat-O Stat. The Pac-10, with only ten conference members, is the only BCS league that plays a true round-robin schedule of home/away games with every other team. We like this because it gives a true measure of the strength of each team relative to one another in the conference. There are no plans on the horizon to expand the Pac-10 to twelve members (for football reasons, the NCAA requires twelve teams to have a postseason championship game).
65 Team Era. The Pac-10 has traditionally been the weakest of the six major conferences in its NCAA Tournament performance, going 127-96 (.570) over the era. The league simply doesn’t put as many teams into the Tournament as its peers, earning 4.1 bids per year – the next lowest is the Big 12 with 4.8 per year, and the “Super Six” average is 5 bids per year. As might be expected as a correlation to that fact, the Pac-10 is also last among the six conferences in #1 seeds (12), S16s (36) and F4s (9). UCLA can’t do it all, folks!
Final Thoughts. UCLA has led the re-emergence of the Pac-10 conference as a basketball powerhouse the last several seasons, but turmoil among several previously consistent programs (Arizona, Stanford) has put the possibility of UCLA and the Nine Dwarves back into the conversation. One thing that we can be certain of is that Ben Howland will win and win big as long as he’s residing in Westwood. He hasn’t won a national title yet, but it seems a foregone conclusion that one of these years he’ll break through and win the brass ring. The rest of the Pac-10 is going to have to figure out a way to recruit on par with UCLA as well as perform in March before this league will be considered a national power again. We know that Pac-10 schools can attract star talent across the spectrum, but can they be coached up to taste national success?