2008-09 Conference Primers: #4 – Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. UCLA (25-4, 15-3)
  2. Arizona St. (20-8, 11-7)
  3. USC (17-11, 10-8)
  4. Washington St. (17-12, 10-8)
  5. Washington (18-12, 9-9)
  6. California (14-15, 8-10)
  7. Arizona (13-16, 8-10)
  8. Oregon (11-17, 7-11)
  9. Stanford (12-17, 6-12)
  10. Oregon St. (7-22, 3-15)

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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. 

NIT Teams.

  • 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. 

Others.

  • 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 announcer Russ 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-lawWe hadn’t either.  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. 

RPI Boosters.

  • 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)

Important Games.

  • 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?   

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04.01.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2008

We haven’t broken out one of these in a while, but there’s no time like the present…

  • The Lopez Bros. say adios to Stanford, merely three days after losing their Sweet Sixteen game to Texas.
  • Western Kentucky head coach Darrin Horn is reportedly the choice to take over for the embattled G. David Odom at South Carolina, making Horn the second WKU coach in the last five years to leave for an SEC school (Dennis Felton – Georgia).  Update: apparently Odom isn’t leaving SC after all – in fact, he’s getting a new 10-year contract!
  • Not that anyone expected otherwise, but Midwest Region MOP Stephen Curry is staying in school at Davidson for at least another year.
  • The IU implosion continues in the aftermath of the Kelvin Sanctions saga – starters Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis have been kicked off of the team.  Just guessing, but methinks this miiiight have been purposeful.
  • And former McD’s AA Taylor King (rotflmao) is transferring out from under the iron fist of Coach K at Duke – word is that Villanova or Gonzaga is his likely destination.
  • Sean Sutton is reportedly getting forced out at Oklahoma St. – it’s been no secret around here that we thought he was doing a horrid job, we guess that the benefactors at OSU agreed. 
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Who Doesn’t See This Coming?

Posted by rtmsf on August 28th, 2007

Word out of the Bay Area today is that Mike Montgomery, coach emeritus of Stanford University, will be returning to The Farm in an administrative capacity with the athletic department.  According to the San Jose Mercury News:

He is expected to help with fundraising and the mentoring of coaches, a job that should allow him to continue working as a regional television analyst during the college basketball season. [...]  “We’ve talked at some length about having him come back with some role at Stanford,” [Stanford AD Bob] Bowlsby said last month. “I think we’ve got a plan in mind.”

 Trent Johnson

Trent Johnson Needs to be Careful in 07-08

What could that plan be?  The pressure is on for current head man Trent Johnson as Stanford, led by the Lopez wondertwins (“activate…  form of… a complete player“), is expected to field its best team in his four years at the helm.  His previous three years have been underwhelming, resulting in a 52-40 overall record with two Mark Madsen-ugly first-round NCAA beatdowns.  Compare that with Monty’s 74-21 mark during his last three years in Palo Alto.   

From this angle, this looks an awful lot like the Pat Riley / Stan van Gundy situation with the Miami Heat last year.  We can easily envision a mid-season takeover should the Cardinal get off to another bad start (the last two seasons have begun with ridiculous Stanford home losses – 79-45 vs. Air Force in 2005-06, and 79-63 to UC-Irvine in 2004-05), and especially if the promise of this team isn’t fully realized come next March.  With the Pac-10 arguably having the most talent in the nation in 2007-08, Johnson is going to have to get the most of his players this year to make the NCAAs and  keep his job.  Being a high-profile college coach is hard enough without your esteemed and more accomplished predecessor hovering over your shoulder at every move.  The easy prediction: Monty will be back as head coach at Stanford by next spring.     

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2007

Unless you notice because your team happens to take advantage of the rule in a given summer, one of the open secrets among college hoops fans is that many teams are allowed to get a jumpstart on their season by implementing NCAA Bylaw 30.7 – “Foreign Tours and Competition.” This rule permits teams to take a basketball-related road trip to a non-US territory (yes, even Canada) once every four years, and allows for ten days of practice and as many as ten games against international teams so long as no class time is missed.

Playing Hoops in Far-Flung Places

With only 25 or so days of practice after Midnight Madness prior to the first regular season games, ten extra days in August to get a team prepared for the season can really make a difference. Not to mention the additional experience of playing games against real competition in sometimes hostile environments (we’ll never forget the story of Rick Pitino famously getting ejected by an Italian official on an overseas jaunt while at Kentucky). An experienced team can use this trip to revitalize the well-oiled machine it left on the floor last March; whereas, a young team can use the trip to build camaraderie and let the coaching staff assess where team strengths and weaknesses will lie. Either way, short of a devastating player injury, there are no downsides.

Since so many programs use this rule, and data about who/when is difficult to come by, we can’t quantifiably state for a fact that the rule helps teams in the season of which it was used. But it’s reasonable to believe that more practice time ultimately begets a better team, and at least we can point to the 2006-07 Florida Gators as an example of where it worked – the Gators spent Labor Day weekend 2006 in Canada reminding themselves just how good they were by destroying the Brock Badgers (as you can see from the vid, Brock’s defenders are invisible) and Guelph (hugs!) in succession.

So here are ten schools who are taking advantage of the rule this summer:

  • Tennessee – the preseason top 5 Vols spent 11 days on the Continent from Aug 8-19, and Bruce Pearl rated his team only a “C+” in terms of basketball while there. The Vols lost one game to Slovakia, but according to this article, they came away with a greater sense of appreciation for each other and understanding of roles, necessary after losing glue guy Dane Bradshaw and adding super-soph Tyler Smith to the mix.
  • Utah – Coming off an extremely tough 11-19 season, new head coach Jim Boylen’s team spent twelve days in Australia from Aug 7-19 working on teamwork and confidence. The Utes went 3-3 on their trip to chilly (it’s still winter there) Australia, but they came away with a sense that the “floor was higher,” which is pretty much a shot at the work ethic and demands of former coach Ray Giacolletti.
  • Stanford – likely preseason top 25 Stanford left for Italy on Aug 20 and will spend twelve days (six games) in Rome, Florence and Milan touring the piazzas and showcasing the interior game of the Lopez twins and the outside shooting of Anthony Goods. Somehow that trip just screams Stanford the only way Stanford can.
  • Indiana – another team with high expectations for the coming season is now practicing in preparation for its Labor Day weekend trip to the Bahamas – wait a minute, Kelvin, is this a vacation ($895 – all-in) or a basketball trip? The Hoosiers waited until school began so that it could include uber-frosh Eric Gordon in the practices and the trip.
  • USC – Tim Floyd is using the same holiday weekend to take his sqaud to Mazatlan, Mexico for four games. OJ Mayo will begin practicing with the team during the first day of classes on Aug 27. Assuming he can be bothered to show up, of course.
  • Clemson – the Tigers are another veteran team with four starters returning who will be taking the long Labor Day weekend to go to the Bahamas. Maybe Clemson fans and Indiana fans can both pretend they’re in Maui instead. Who are we kidding – all 440,000 toothless Clemson fans will be in Death Valley that weekend.
  • Oral RobertsEddie’s Other Son lost the two stars (Ken Tutt and Caleb Green) who led ORU to 86 wins in the last four seasons, so he’s using their Labor Day weekend trip to Toronto as an opportunity to rebuild with some young faces. Toronto, eh? No word on how ORU’s penalty killing and shift changes are looking this year.
  • Alabama - what is it with these schools going to Canada? The Tide will spend Labor Day weekend in Ottawa, of all places – a city even further north than Toronto. Bama will be without star point guard Ronald Steele, who is still rehabbing both knees after a disappointing season in 2006-07. Still, Gottfried has a solid core coming back, and the last time they made this trip, they went to the Elite 8 (2004).
  • Washington – another disappointing team last year with promise of better things this season, the Huskies are now practicing in preparation for an extended Labor Day trip to Greece from Aug 31 – Sept 4. Head man Lorenzo Romar said that only one of his five starting positions is taken at this point – the rest are up for grabs (F – Jon Brockman).
  • Belmont – these trips aren’t limited to just the bigger programs, as tiny NCAA Tournament darling Belmont University took a nine-day trip to Europe from Aug 11-20, including stops in Paris and London. That’s more like it.
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