Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Pac-10 Conference Tournament Preview

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The Pac-10 Conference had plenty of hype during the first half of the season, getting a lot of attention as the nation’s best conference. That talk quieted down as the season wore on, but the Pac-10 is still a very good league. UCLA won the conference, at 15-3, finishing two games ahead of surprise Washington State. Arizona and Oregon hit a mid-season rut, but both managed to tie for third place with USC at 11-7. The conference is in line to pick up six bids, and one of the hottest teams in the conference isn’t even in that group.

Favorite: UCLA has to be the favorite coming into the conference tournament. The Bruins are one of the best teams in the country, and are a legit candidate to reach the Final Four and win it all. They play terrific defense, and have several weapons on the offensive end. UCLA has arguably the best backcourt in the country, at both ends of the floor. Darren Collison has developed into a terrific point guard, and Arron Afflalo is an All-American candidate. Throw in Josh Shipp, and the Bruins are loaded on the perimeter. Inside, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can do a variety of things, and Lorenzo Mata provides rebounding and defense.

Contenders: Washington State has been one of the most surprising teams in the country, while coach Tony Bennett is the favorite for Coach of the Year. The Cougars slow the game down and play very good defense. They are led by the backcourt of Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. Both are terrific defenders, and Low is a good scorer. Weaver is a do-it-all player that can pass and rebound. Up front, Daven Harmeling can shoot the ball from beyond the arc. Ivory Clark is a good athlete, and Robbie Cowgill is a solid center. USC has been competitive in nearly every game this season, and took UCLA to the wire twice. Their computer numbers don’t show how good they are. The Trojans have a terrific perimeter group. Nick Young is one of the best wings in the country, while Gabe Pruitt and Lodrick Stewart can shoot the ball and score from the backcourt. Up front, Taj Gibson has been a much underrated freshman. He can rebound and block shots with the best of them in the conference. Oregon struggled in the middle of Pac-10 play, but played better down the stretch. Like USC, they are led by their terrific perimeter group. Aaron Brooks was a Player of the Year candidate for most of the season, and freshman Tajuan Porter can really stretch the defense. Bryce Taylor is a good scorer, and Malik Hairston is extremely talented and has plenty of potential. Maarty Leunen gives them a good option down low. He can do a variety of things up front. Arizona was looking like a legit Final Four candidate through most of January. However, they slumped terrible during the middle part of conference play. They have won six of eight to finish the year, though, with all five of those wins coming on the road. The Wildcats are loaded on offense, with forwards Marcus Williams scoring in several ways and Chase Budinger knocking down shots. Ivan Radenovic is an absolute match-up nightmare for opponents, with his inside-outside game. Mustafa Shakur runs the show, and is very good in transition, with his ability to distribute the ball.

Sleepers: Stanford wasn’t expected to reach the NCAA Tournament this year, but they have played well in the second half of the year, and look likely to get a bid. Robin and Brook Lopez are a very good freshman duo in the post, and they can dominate the paint at times. Lawrence Hill is a tough match-up in the frontcourt, with his ability to drive past defenders and finish. Anthony Goods might not be healthy for the tournament, but he provides a perimeter option. Washington knocked off UCLA in the season finale, and will have momentum heading into the Tournament. Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman form a terrific inside tandem, with Hawes using his offensive skills to score, and Brockman is a big-time rebounder. Quincy Pondexter is athletic and explosive in transition. Ryan Appleby and Justin Dentmon are solid in the backcourt.

Prediction: Was UCLA’s loss to Washington a sign of things to come, or was it because the Bruins were essentially playing for nothing? I’m going with the latter, although they won’t have an easy road through the Pac-10 Tournament. Arizona is playing well lately, and USC has shown the ability to play with the Bruins. Washington State is also a very tough team to beat. However, in the end, UCLA has too much in the backcourt and are too tough on the defensive side of the ball for any team to beat them in the conference tourney. I think that USC will knock off Washington State in the semi-finals, but will fall short against the Bruins.

First Round
#8 California 69, #9 Oregon State 54
#7 Washington 65, #10 Arizona State 53

#1 UCLA 70, #8 California 57
#5 Arizona 82, #4 Oregon 76
#3 USC 67, #6 Stanford 62
#2 Washington State 59, #7 Washington 56

#1 UCLA 75, #5 Arizona 70
#3 USC 60, #2 Washington State 57

#1 UCLA 66, #3 USC 62

1 comment:

  1. Jeff, i start to read your blog this season, and i like it!

    Your report and prediction is very good, but i guess Oregon will beat Arizona :)

    A reader from Asia~