Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Pac-10 Conference Tournament Preview

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The Pac-10 Conference was one of the two worst major conferences this season, along with the Big 12. UCLA was the only team that consistently performed at a high level throughout the season. That is the main reason they won the league by a game at 14-4. Washington finished a game back of the Bruins, while California had the league wrapped up until they lost three of their final five games. Five teams finished above .500, while five teams finished below .500. There was a clear separation, on paper, between the top teams and the bottom-feeders. Overall, though, there is probably only two teams with a legitimate shot at winning the tournament.


UCLA has been one of the top 15 teams in the country the whole year, and are playing excellent basketball lately, having won 9 of their past 11. They are the most efficient team in the league shooting the ball and also have one of the better scoring defenses in the country. Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar form one of the best backcourts in the country. Afflalo is an excellent defender and might be even more dangerous on offense, while Farmar is an outstanding passer at the point. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been the best freshman in the conference, and is a very good rebounder. Darren Collison is a developing scorer at the guard position, and Cedric Bozeman is a versatile wing who can do many things. Inside, Ryan Hollins leads the way but Alfred Aboya also contributes. Neither is a big-time producer in either scoring and rebounding, but they provide a big body and some solid defense.

Washington is finally playing like they were during the non-conference campaign, when they went 11-0. Currently, they are riding an eight-game winning streak. Between the two winning streaks, the Huskies went 5-5 in the Pac-10 to drop to the bubble. However, they are fine now and are going to be a tough team to beat. Washington is very balanced and versatile on offense, which is the main reason they lead the conference in scoring offense. Brandon Roy is a candidate for All-America status. He is a do-everything guard for the Huskies, and he is one of the best players in the country. Joining him in the backcourt are freshman Justin Dentmon, a talented but erratic point guard, and Ryan Appleby, an excellent long-range shooter. Up front, Jamaal Williams is undersized but nearly impossible to stop in the post. Bobby Jones can play multiple positions, and is one of the better defenders in the conference. Mike Jensen has returned from injury to give the Huskies a shooting presence in the frontcourt, while Jon Brockman is a very good freshman post player.


California won six in a row in the middle of the Pac-10 season to make a run at first place, but struggled towards the finish line to drop to third. Leon Powe is one of the better power forwards in the country, and has the ability to dominate any team and take over any game. DeVon Hardin is an athletic post player who is adept at blocking shots and rebounding, while Rod Benson also pitches in up front. Ayinde Ubaka is one of the conference's most improved players, while Richard Midgley is a very good shooter. Omar Wilkes is an athletic wing scorer and Theo Robertson has been a surprising freshman.

Arizona has been a disappointment for much of the season, but the Wildcats are still likely to reach the NCAA Tournament. They are only 5-5 in their last ten games. Leading scorer Hassan Adams is out for the tournament due to suspension. That will have a huge impact on both ends of the floor. Picking up most of the slack is going to be freshman Marcus Williams, who has really picked up his play in the second half of the season. Mustafa Shakur and Chris Rodgers form a very talented yet underachieving backcourt. Rodgers is a good athlete who can score and defend, while Shakur is a very good passer who can improve his shooting to become a better all-around player. Up front, Iva Radenovic is a very versatile forward. He can step up shoot the jumper, but can also play in the paint. Kirk Walters contributes decent production down low.


Southern Cal was looking very solid early in the season after beating North Carolina in impressive fashion. They even started 6-4 in the Pac-10. Then star guard Gabe Pruitt was injured and deemed out indefinitely. Since then, the Trojans have lost six of their last eight overall. However, Pruitt is back, giving Southern Cal one of the best players in the conference. USC has an excellent trio of wins over UCLA, Arizona, and North Carolina, meaning they have the ability to beat good teams. Nick Smith is very difficult to defend, while Lodrick Stewart is a good defender and scorer, while the aforementioned Pruitt rounds out the triumvirate. This team is a nightmare to defend on the perimeter. Inside, Abdoulaye Ndiaye provides some scoring and rebounding.

Prediction: As previously mentioned, there are only two teams with a legitimate chance at winning the conference tournament. Everyone else is either not good enough or just has not been playing very good basketball lately. In other words, the Pac-10 is going to come down to Washington and UCLA. Washington won both meetings between the two, and we all know how hard it is to beat a quality team three times in a season. Brandon Roy vs. Aaron Afflalo will be a joy to watch in the backcourt. Washington has a big advantage down low, but UCLA has Jordan Farmar at the point, giving them a huge edge at that position. I'm going to go with the Bruins over Washington, mainly because of their backcourt. I love Washington's team, but their lack of an experienced point guard is going to cost them against Farmar and UCLA.

Game-by-game predictions:
#9 Oregon State 73, #8 Arizona State 66
#7 Oregon 56, #10 Washington State 47

#1 UCLA 76, #9 Oregon State 61
#4 Arizona 73, #5 Stanford 67
#3 California 69, #6 USC 64
#2 Washington 83, #7 Oregon 68

#1 UCLA 74, #4 Arizona 65
#2 Washington 75, #3 California 70

#1 UCLA 71, #2 Washington 69

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