Friday, November 2, 2007

Pac-10 Conference Preview


Player of the Year: Darren Collison, PG, UCLA

Newcomer of the Year: Kevin Love, UCLA

All-Conference Team:
G- Darren Collison, UCLA
G- O.J. Mayo, USC
F- Chase Budinger, Arizona
C- Kevin Love, UCLA
C- Brook Lopez, Stanford

Second Team:
G- Kyle Weaver, Washington State
G/F- Malik Hairston, Oregon
F- Ryan Anderson, California
F- Jon Brockman, Washington
F- Taj Gibson, USC

Third Team:
G- Derrick Low, Washington State
G- Bryce Taylor, Oregon

F- Lawrence Hill, Stanford
F- Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State
C- DeVon Hardin, California

1. UCLA: The Bruins are sort of like the wannabe Florida Gators of the past two seasons; they have reached the Final Four twice, but have yet to reach the title game or win a national championship. To be honest, I’m expecting a very similar result this season. UCLA returns four starters from last year’s group, and brings in one of the best freshmen in the country in Kevin Love. He is one of the best big men in the country, and will prove that from day one. He is the best outlet passer to come along in years, which will enable UCLA to run more. Love is also a strong finisher and rebounder who can hit the mid-range jumper. The rest of the frontcourt is also very good. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute did not take the anticipated step forward last year, but is a tough match-up for opponents, and could see time at small forward this season. He needs to improve his ability to create scoring opportunities for himself if he is going to excel on the wing, though. Lorenzo Mata is a banger around the basket who rebounds and does the dirty work. Alfred Aboya is a solid performer off the bench, while James Keefe has talent. Last year, the Bruins had the best backcourt duo in the country in Darren Collison and departed All-American Arron Afflalo. Without Afflalo, though, Josh Shipp will have to step into his shoes and provide terrific production at both ends of the floor. He is capable of it. Hampered by injuries throughout his career, Shipp could have a break-out campaign this season. He is also a solid rebounder who takes care of the ball well. Collison is one of the best point guards in the country. He is a very good passer and shooter who is also a dynamite defender. Collison can knock down the three with consistency and might be the favorite for conference player of the year heading into the season. Russell Westbrook has shown flashes of his potential and could see some starting minutes at some point this season if Shipp has to move to small forward, while Michael Roll is a very good shooter. Projected Finish: NCAA

2. Washington State: The Cougars surprised everyone last season by going 13-5 in the Pac-10 and finishing second to UCLA, as well as garnering a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They were expected to finish in or near the cellar of the league heading into last year, but Tony Bennett, in his first season in Pullman, turned the program around. WSU is led by arguably the best backcourt duo in the country in Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. They are both essentially interchangeable and will play both guard spots throughout the course of a game. Low has been compared by some to Steve Nash, and he is a high-energy player that always seems to be around the ball. He can create his own shot, and is also adept at finding his teammates. Weaver is one of the best all-around players in the country. He is not much of a shooter, but he does everything else very well. He is a terrific defender and is a tough match-up on the offensive end due to his size, athleticism, and length. Off the bench will be Taylor Rochestie, who started towards the end of the season. He takes good care of the ball, and is a good long-range shooter and defender. Sophomore Nikola Koprivica is a good scorer when going to the basket, while freshman Thomas Abercrombie was very solid on the team’s trip to Australia during the summer. Up front, the Cougars have a variety of options to throw at opponents. Small forward Daven Harmeling is a terrific long-range shooter on the wing, and he only improved as the season went on. He struggles mightily on the defensive end, though. Post players Robbie Cowgill and Aron Baynes are both 6-10 and give the Cougars a nice tandem inside. Cowgill is a decent scorer down low who can rebound, but he is one of the better post defenders on the team and is also a solid passer out of the low block. Baynes has improved in the offseason, and could be ready to become a go-to-guy down low for WSU. Junior Caleb Forrest and freshman Fabian Boeke will fight for minutes off the bench in the frontcourt. Boeke is a shooter, while Forrest is a decent inside player. Projected Finish: NCAA

3. Oregon: The Ducks were another surprise team in the Pac-10 last year. They always had the talent to make noise within the conference, but always fell short of the NCAA Tournament due to a variety of reasons. However, last season it all came together. Oregon garnered a No. 3 seed and reached the Elite Eight, but need to replace Aaron Brooks if it is going to come anywhere near repeating that. The Ducks still do an excellent backcourt duo in Tajuan Porter and Bryce Taylor. Porter is a 5-6 guard who can shoot extremely efficiently from behind the arc. However, he will have to become more of a point guard this season in the absence of Brooks. He is going to become more of a playmaker. Taylor became a better scorer and all-around player as the year went on, and should improve this season. He can shoot the ball from long-range and has developed a solid mid-range game. Taylor is also arguably the team’s best defender and is not afraid of taking it to the basket. Malik Hairston will likely move back to his natural position on the wing, and could be primed for a big year. He is one of the best all-around players in the conference, and has the ability to score both inside and outside. Hairston is also a solid rebounder who can defend. Providing depth on the perimeter will be freshman Kamyron Brown, who will play the point if Porter needs to move back to the wing, and redshirt freshman Lekendric Longmire. Up front, the Ducks are led by versatile big man Maarty Leunen. Leunen can score inside and is very consistent from beyond the arc. He can also bang down low and grab rebounds, and can also run the floor well. Leunen is also a decent defender who can find the open man if necessary. Joevan Catron will likely start next to him. He is a very solid defender down low, and can score around the basket. He also has a decent touch on his mid-range shot. Two other newcomers, forwards Drew Viney, a very good scorer who can shoot, and Frantz Dorsainvil, a decent bench performer, will provide depth. Projected Finish: NCAA

4. Stanford: The last time we saw the Cardinal in action, they were getting absolutely annihilated by Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This season, expect a much different last impression of Stanford. The main reason for the optimism, along with the return of five starters and every key member of last year’s rotation, is the outstanding frontcourt. Brook Lopez is a potential lottery pick who really came into his own down the stretch, and is very difficult to stop once he gets the ball in the paint. Defensively, he has long arms and good leaping ability to block shots. However, he is not eligible to play yet due to academics. If he misses a long period of time, this team will suffer. His brother, Robin, is a terrific shot-blocker and all-around defender who can also get baskets and rebounds in the paint. He does need to become more consistent offensively and with his ability to stay out of foul trouble. Lawrence Hill is one of the best small forwards in the country, and is ready to become a national name. He can score in several ways, and is a good rebounder. He can get points around the basket and in the mid-range, and is also capable of knocking down three-pointers consistently. He can also play down low if necessary. Fred Washington is a terrific passer and a solid rebounder who provides help on the wing. He is very versatile due to his all-around ability and size and strength. Taj Finger comes off the bench down low, and provides decent scoring and rebounding, while freshman Josh Owens will see some minutes. The backcourt, mostly the point guard position, will be the key. Anthony Goods is a natural shooting guard who is a solid scorer and three-point shooter, but he will have to handle the ball this year. He is a solid distributor but needs to improve his shooting inside the arc and has to take care of the ball. Mitch Johnson is a more natural point guard and can run the team well. He is also a solid ball-handler who doesn’t turn the ball over very often. Two scoring guards will also see time off the bench in Landry Fields and Kenny Brown. Fields is a good scorer and a decent rebounder who will help the Cardinal with his perimeter ability, while Brown is a good shooter who made the most of his time last season. San Francisco transfer Drew Shiller will also get minutes. Projected Finish: NCAA

5. USC: The Trojans will be one of the biggest stories to follow this season in college basketball. For one, they are finally a quality basketball program who will fight with UCLA for headlines in Los Angeles. More importantly, though, they welcome O.J. Mayo, the super-freshman who has been making waves in the recruiting world for years. He is a tremendous talent who can do everything on the court—and, unfortunately off the court too. During the past year, Mayo has been ejected for throwing a basketball into the stands after a dunk; suspended for “bumping” an official to the ground (go watch video of this, and tell me the ref didn’t flop); and cited for marijuana possession. On the court, though, he will make an immediate impact. He can score from anywhere on the court, and is a much better distributor than some give him credit for. He is extremely athletic and will dominate opposing guards early and often. Providing post balance will be sophomore Taj Gibson, one of the best young power forwards in the country. He is an outstanding rebounder and shot-blocker whose offensive game improved as the season went on. He has a variety of post moves around the basket and also can hit the mid-range jumper. The third potential first-round pick in the starting lineup is freshman Davon Jefferson, an athletic combo forward who can score both inside and outside. He is also a very good rebounder who needs to improve his defense. Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis will round out the starting five. Hackett started on the perimeter last season, and will do so again. He demonstrated his ability to be an outstanding defensive player, guarding players at a variety of positions. In the postseason, Hackett also showed he could score if necessary, as well as rebound and distribute. He might struggle to open the season, though, as Mayo elbowed him in a preseason practice, breaking his nose. Lewis is another 6-5 wing who will start. He is a good long-range shooter who will have to become more aggressive shooting the ball this season. Lewis is also one of the top defensive players on the team. The aforementioned perimeter group of Hackett, Lewis, and Mayo need to help make up for the losses of early-entry draft-picks Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young. Off the bench will be big men Rousean Cromwell, Keith Wilkinson, and Mamadou Diarra. Cromwell has provided very good defense and solid rebounding in his career so far; Wilkinson is a decent inside-outside scorer; and Diarra will miss six weeks due to hernia surgery. Freshmen Marcus Simmons and Angelo Johnson will see minutes on the perimeter. Simmons is a tremendous defender and athlete, while Johnson might be the purest point guard on the roster. Projected Finish: NCAA

6. Arizona: The Wildcats could easily be included in this season’s preseason Top 25, but with how loaded the Pac-10 is this year, they aren’t even in the top half of the league. That says a lot about the conference, and how good it is this season. Arizona loses three starters, but brings in quality newcomers and still has Lute Olson as the head coach. As long as he is around, the Wildcats will contend. However, three of the past four seasons, they have won only 20 games and have not seemed like the Final Four contender they were in the past. This year’s team starts with forward Chase Budinger, a budding All-America. He is an unbelievable athlete who was also one of the top young volleyball players in the country before arriving at Arizona (stop me if you’ve heard that before), and could be primed for a huge season. He can knock down the three consistently, and is also solid at driving to the basket and finishing. He does need to become more aggressive with taking the ball to the rim, and needs to improve his man-to-man defense. Joining him up front is sophomore forward Jordan Hill, who saw his minutes rise towards the end of the season. He is one of the top shot-blockers in the conference, and is improving his offense and rebounding. He needs to get better with creating his own shot with post moves down low. Kirk Walters missed nearly all of last season with mononucleosis, but will return this year to provide solid defense and scoring, as well as decent rebounding. Freshman Jamelle Horne could start in a smaller frontcourt if Walters struggles. He is a very good athlete who can score and rebound, and is also a tremendous defender. Senior Bret Brielmaier will provide depth down low, while freshmen Alex Jacobson, a 7-1 center, and Zane Johnson, a 6-6 athletic forward, will push for time. In the backcourt, the Wildcats need to replace four-year starter Mustafa Shakur, but freshman Jerryd Bayless should be up to the task. Bayless is an outstanding athlete who is an explosive scorer and would be a much more recognizable name if it weren’t for the other freshmen in the Pac-10 like O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love. He is capable of lighting up the scoreboard, but is also a solid defender and can distribute the ball. He will have to do a lot of the latter this season at the point. Senior Jawann McClellan has been a solid scorer throughout his career at Arizona—a career hampered by injuries. He is a good long-range shooter who hit a slump late in the year, but he should bounce back and be a solid contributor on the wing again. If Bayless can’t run the point as a freshman, sophomore Nic Wise will likely step in. He is very quick and can play defense and run the team. Senior Daniel Dillon is a lockdown defender, and freshman Laval Lucas-Perry will see time. Projected Finish: NCAA

7. Washington: The Huskies have some of the best talent in the conference, but they could be one of the odd teams out of the NCAA Tournament if the newcomers don’t produce immediately. Like Arizona at No. 6 above them, that is because of the depth and talent in the Pac-10 this season. UW is coming off of a disappointing season last year, going only 8-10 in conference play and missing the postseason completely after being projected as a Top 25 team going into the year. This year’s group will be led by its talented frontcourt duo of power forward Jon Brockman and small forward Quincy Pondexter. Brockman was one of the most underrated big men in the country last season after averaging almost a double-double but being overshadowed by lottery pick Spencer Hawes. He is a terrific rebounder who is relentless at both ends of the floor and is efficient shooting the ball. Pondexter had a terrific start to last season, but struggled in Pac-10 play. He is very athletic and can run the floor well, but is not a great shooter from the perimeter. Replacing Hawes in the starting lineup will likely be a freshman. Matthew Bryan-Amaning is a highly-regarded post player who can rebound and play defense very well, while Darnell Gant is another good scorer and rebounder. Justin Holiday is more of a small forward who can do a variety of things on the court. Upperclassmen Artem Wallace, who played well late, and Joe Wolfinger, who is returning from injury, will push for time. In the backcourt, Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby both return. Dentmon is a decent point guard who struggled mightily in Pac-10 play last season after playing very well as a freshman. He did not take care of the ball at all, with more turnovers than assists, and was not accurate shooting the ball. However, he still has ample talent and is a good defensive player. Appleby is a very good three-point shooter who can get hot from beyond the arc and provide the Huskies with yet another offensive option. He is also a ridiculously accurate free-throw shooter. Coach Lorenzo Romar has talked about using a three-guard attack this season, and if that is the case, senior Tim Morris and sophomore Adrian Oliver will fight for the job. Morris had a very good summer, while Oliver takes care of the ball and can rebound as well as distribute. Joel Smith is athletic and can shoot. Projected Finish: NCAA

8. California: If the Golden Bears were in, say, the Big Ten, they would definitely be in the upper half of the conference and possibly an NCAA Tournament team. However, since they’re in the Pac-10, the Bears are in the bottom third of the league and will struggle to reach the Big Dance. The Pac-10, no matter how good it is, will not 80% of its teams into the NCAA Tournament. Cal does have the inside duo to make a move up in the standings this season in Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin. Anderson was one of the best freshmen in the country last season after not being highly regarded heading into the season. He is a very good scorer who can get points inside and outside, and is a very good rebounder. He can play both forward positions, and might be more natural on the wing. However, he tends to turn the ball over often. Hardin played in only eleven games last season, but should be healthy this year. If so, he immediately becomes one of the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the conference. He is a very athletic big man but needs to improve his offensive game. Starting next to them will be Theo Robertson, a good three-point shooter who will play more of a perimeter role than he did last year due to Hardin’s injury. He is also a very solid defender. Also fighting for time at the three will be Eric Vierneisel, a solid shooter on the wing. Providing depth in the frontcourt will be Duke transfer Jamal Boykin, a decent combo forward, sophomore Jordan Wilkes, a talented big man, and a slew of freshmen. In the backcourt will be point guard Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher. Randle is small but extremely quick, and takes care of the ball very well. He can get into the lane on defenders and score as well. Christopher is a good scorer from the wing who will see more minutes this season. Nikola Knezevic will provide depth. Projected Finish: NIT

9. Arizona State: The Sun Devils are coming off of a horrible 2-16 Pac-10 year, with an 8-22 record overall. However, fans in Tempe are excited for the upcoming season. Why? Even in the loaded Pac-10, the Sun Devils have a chance to make a move in the standings. The newcomers are a major reason for that optimism. There is a chance that three fresh faces will start immediately, including 6-10 Duke transfer Eric Boateng, five-star wing James Harden, and highly-touted point guard Jamelle McMillan. Boateng is a very good shot-blocker and rebounder who can provide decent finishing around the basket. Harden is arguably the team’s highest profile recruit—ever. He can do a variety of things on the court and will be ASU’s go-to-guy on the wing right away. He can score very well, and is also a decent rebounder and defender. McMillan is the son of Nate McMillan, the former Seattle Sonics’ guard and current Portland Trail Blazers head coach. He could be ready to run the team from opening day. Furthermore, ASU returns All-Pac-10 big man Jeff Pendergraph, as well as three other starters from a season ago. Pendergraph is one of the best centers in the country, and he will only improve with the added help this season. He is a good scorer and a terrific rebounder. He is also an efficient shooter from the field. On the perimeter, Christian Polk was second on the team in scoring last year. Polk is a very good three-point shooter, though he did hit bouts of inconsistency with his jumpshot last year. He won’t have to do as much on the wing this season with the addition of Harden. Derek Glasser and Jerren Shipp both started last season, but need to work to regain those starting positions. Glasser is a good distributor and doesn’t turn the ball over often, while Shipp is a solid player at both ends of the court. Antwi Atuahene was also decent on the perimeter. He can do a variety of things, including scoring and distributing. Depth in the frontcourt needs to develop, but the Sun Devils don’t have a lot of height on the roster besides Boateng and Pendergraph. Projected Finish: No Postseason

10. Oregon State: The Beavers are clearly the worst team in the conference. While the other nine teams all have postseason aspirations, OSU is coming off of an 11-21 (3-15 in the Pac-10) campaign and lost three starters, but unlike Arizona State, did not improve very much. However, the Beaves do bring in a big-time transfer at center in former Kansas big man C.J. Giles. He could transform OSU into a team that the top clubs can’t overlook every night out. He is a potential first-round—and possibly lottery—pick who was kicked off the Jayhawks for off-court problems. The 6-11 center is not eligible until December, but can be a force at both ends of the floor, especially in terms of blocked shots. Offensively, he can score inside and also step out and hit the mid-range jumper. The other go-to-guy in the frontcourt is Marcel Jones, a very good scorer who can get points both inside and outside. He can rebound well and is a solid defensive player, and will get help up front with the addition of Giles. Rounding out the frontcourt will be sophomore Roeland Schaftenaar, who will likely start until Giles becomes eligible. He is a solid inside scorer. Calvin Hampton and freshmen Sean Carter and Omari Johnson will also push for time. The backcourt is led by sophomore Josh Tarver, one of the more underrated guards in the conference. He is a decent scorer but does not have any range on his shot, but is also a solid distributor and defender. Junior Jack McGillis played well last season, providing a good three-point shooter and scorer. He could garner a starting spot on the wing, along with freshman Lathen Wallace. Seth Tarver, Josh’s younger brother, also returns. Projected Finish: No Postseason


  1. Fair enough putting Cal 8th. The backcourt is unproven but I think Knezevic, Randle, and Christopher will all take big steps forward this year. They are unproven though. Once everyone comes back healthy (two starters -- Jerome Randle and Theo Robertson are currently out) plus Jamal Boykin becoming eligible in December, there won't be much separating them from the rest of the teams in the conference. I have a feeling DeVon Hardin will be making a lot of people look silly for saying he isn't one of the 10 best players in the league. His offensive game will show significant improvement, but I understand the hesitancy to put him up there right now.

    However you are flatout wrong saying Ryan Anderson tends to turn the ball over often -- in fact it is just the opposite. He had 47 turnovers in 1125 mintues played last year as a freshman playing outside his natural position. Chase Budinger had 49 turnovers in 1024 minutes played. Ike Diogu averaged around 100 turnovers per season playing around the same number of minutes.

    It will be interesting to see how he does if in fact he does play some minutes on the wing until Robertson and Boykin are available.

  2. note: UCLA did reach the title game in 2006