Another week closer to tip-off, and with an eye towards next week when we’ll be dropping our picks for what’s going to happen this year, we ask our correspondents to continue doing some prognosticating.
“Arizona and UCLA are widely considered, in one order or the other, to be the two favorites in the Pac-12 this year. If you were to pick one other team to surprise and steal the conference title, who would it be?”
Adam Butler: I’m into the Stanford Cardinal first and foremost because of the best point guard in the league, Chasson Randle. Maybe he’s not a true one, whatever, but he’s arguably the guard in the league whom I want to have the ball in his hands more than anyone else. He’s so quick he’s already by you. And Aaron Bright? He just stepped out of the quintessential Stanford guard mold; Arthur Lee, Chris Hernandez, Brevin Knight, Mitch Johnson, these guys solid-game-played you to death and Aaron Bright is capable of the same (and the opposite). So with guard play covered, let’s go to the bigs. Hey, got ’em. OK, they’re not proven, but I really like what Stefan Nastic, Josh Huestis and Anthony Brown offer – some size, athleticism, and effort – as a complement to that front court. These guys, along with the emerging likes of John Gage and the intriguingly talented freshman, Rosco Allen, makes this a sound Stanford team. Dwight Powell is the difference-maker. The big, long, athletic, dynamic, still-learning-the-game Canuck is poised to have a monster year for Johnny Dawkins. Last year he was projected to have a far greater impact than he did but it seems he never quite caught a groove while struggling with foot injuries. But now he’s healthy. Now he’s got the NIT under his belt and it’s his frontcourt. He’s not sharing it with Josh Owens. What makes Powell such a game-changer is not only his size capable of controlling the paint on the defensive end – his primary responsibility – but he has a fluid game that can help to spread the floor for the Cardinal slashers and crashers. This team has the pieces to be very good, they’re the returning NIT champs and, honestly, that says something. I don’t care what the championship is, if you’re the last team standing, that says something about you. So, if I’m right in thinking Chasson Randle is a very serious POY candidate, and our own Kevin Danna is right in thinking Dwight Powell will be the conference’s breakout player of the year, then I could be right (yes, twice, no big deal) in picking Stanford as the Bruin and Wildcat jumper.
Andrew Murawa: I’m going to go out on a limb and pick the defending conference champions, Washington, a team that might even actually make the NCAA Tournament this year. There’s little doubt that this vintage of the Huskies doesn’t have as much talent as last year’s squad, but they have the potential to be a great example of the old sports adage of addition by subtraction. It was a poorly kept secret that last year’s group just didn’t mesh. Abdul Gaddy was the veteran point guard, but Tony Wroten more or less kept him from owning that role, much like the roles of Wroten and Terrence Ross also overlapped. This year, the roles will be more firmly defined. Gaddy’s the floor general. Scott Suggs and C.J. Wilcox are going to be the scorers. Andrew Andrews will offer some punch off the bench. Aziz N’Diaye will pound the boards and dissuade the opposition from exploring the paint. And there is no shortage of frontcourt players – Desmond Simmons, Shawn Kemp Jr., Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig – willing to help out with the dirty work. Yeah, head coach Lorenzo Romar would love to see one of those guys take a big leap forward a la Matthew Bryan-Amaning circa 2009-10, but regardless, there is enough offensive firepower on the perimeter here to carry most of the scoring. And, let’s not forget that Romar has a history of going out and winning the conference when least expected. His 2008-09 squad featured tough senior Jon Brockman, but also a bunch of guys like fellow senior Justin Dentmon and junior Quincy Pondexter who had underachieved to that point. They blew up, Romar found his next batch of stars in freshman Isaiah Thomas and sophomore Venoy Overton, and the Huskies won the conference title. Not to say that team is a perfect parallel to this one, but that team was by no means Romar’s best collection of talent. And somehow that was the team that won Romar’s lone Pac-10/12 regular season title in Seattle. Well, at least the lone regular season title that I care to remember.