2Pac was right after all
Quite a bit was made last season of a renaissance in the quality of basketball in the Pac-10 conference, as it ended the season as a top three conference in both the RPI and Sagarin ratings in addition to earning a record six NCAA bids for the conference and enjoying the prestige as the only conference with multiple teams in the Elite Eight (Oregon and UCLA). There has always been a surplus of talent on the west coast, especially in the Seattle and SoCal areas, but it was largely characterized by players opting to play for an eastern school just as often as staying home to play for State U. This has been changing over the last five years, however, as new coaches such as Lorenzo Romar at Washington, Tim Floyd at USC, Tony Bennett at Wazzu and Ben Howland at UCLA have endeavored and succeeded in keeping as many of those talents as possible close to home. This is no more evident than in some of the recruiting wars over the last couple of years that resulted in top ten players such as Spencer Hawes (Washington), twins Brook & Robin Lopez (Stanford), Kevin Love (UCLA) and Brandon Jennings (Arizona) signing to play in the Pac-10 (notable exception: Lake Oswego’s (OR) Kyle Singler to Duke).
Lavin’s former conference is on the rise
Still, we were a little surprised when Rivals released its top ten players at each position for the 2007-08 season, and the Pac-10 claimed by far the most players, with thirteen of the top fifty. This is especially remarkable given that the league is losing all-conference performers Arron Afflalo (UCLA), Aaron Brooks (Oregon), Marcus Williams (Arizona) and Nick Young (USC) to the NBA next season, while it welcomes likely top fifty players Kevin Love and OJ Mayo (USC) to the league. With talent like this staying on the west coast, we should expect another great season from the Pac-10 conference next year. Somewhere Steve Lavin’s hair gel is celebrating.
The ACC and Big East have seven players each on the list; the SEC has six, and the the Big 12 has five of the top fifty players. The Mountain West and Conference USA both have three of the top fifty, outperforming the Big 10 (again), who only has two. The Colonial (Eric Maynor – VCU), Horizon (AJ Graves – Butler), Missouri Valley (Randal Falker – S. Illinois) and Southern (Stephen Curry – Davidson) conferences each have one top fifty player returning. Below is the list including multiple-player conferences:
You probably noticed that we shaded the teams with three top fifty players returning next season – Stanford, UCLA, UNC, Kansas. It’s certainly no coincidence that three of those will begin next year in the top five of the polls, and the fourth, Stanford, will probably be knocking on the door of the top ten.
- Where is all the Big Ten talent? Having less players on this list than CUSA and the Mountain West is cause for alarm, and helps to explain why only one Big Ten team played into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament last season. Where are the usual stables of talent at Michigan State and Illinois? Aside from the yeoman’s work that Matta is putting into recruting at OSU, the rest of the Big Ten has signed only two top thirty prospects during the last three recruiting cycles – Joe Krabbenhoft of Wisconsin in 2005, and Eric Gordon of Indiana in 2007. An influx of coaching talent has entered the league (Tubby Smith at Minnesota and Kelvin Sampson at Indiana), but without the players to accompany those moves, the Big Ten is going nowhere fast.
- Nitpicks. We probably would have found a place for the following players: Derrick Low (Washington St.), Edgar Sosa (Louisville), Jerel McNeal (Marquette), and Patrick Beverley (Arkansas). Expect each of these players to be all-conference performers in their respective leagues next season. We also have a sneaky feeling that guys like DaJuan Summers (Georgetown), Deon Thompson (UNC), Derrick Caracter (Louisville) and JaJuan Smith (Tennessee) will make a solid case to be on this list next season.
- Surprises. NC State’s future looks bright with two young big men, Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley, returning for Sidney Lowe’s team. Alabama should be much improved next year as well, assuming Ronald Steele gets healthy (he was on many preseason all-american teams last year but struggled with tendinitis and ankle injuries that largely derailed Bama’s season). Apologies to the Mountain West, but who are Stuart Creason and Luke Nevill? Their inclusion on this list shows that the depth of talent at the center position in the college game is ridiculously thin.
- Instant Impact Players in 2007-08. This list next season will be populated by the likes of OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley (Kansas St.), Derrick Rose (Memphis) and Anthony Randolph (LSU).