Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pac-10 Conference Tournament Preview

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The Pac-10 Conference might have been the best conference in the country this season, from top-to-bottom. Winless Oregon State brought the league down in the eyes of the RPI, but eight teams were in contention for the NCAA Tournament for much of the season, while ninth-place Washington is also very solid. In the league race, UCLA defeated Stanford in the next-to-last game of the season to clinch the title. Three other teams finished with double-figure wins, with two more going 9-9. Interestingly, Arizona went just 8-10. There are plenty of teams capable of making a run in this conference.

Favorite: Although UCLA possibly got lucky in the final two games of the season when it needed questionable calls/no-calls from the referees in order to knock off Stanford and California, the Bruins are clearly the team to beat heading into the tourney. They are one of the best teams in the country, led by big man Kevin Love, an outstanding scorer and rebounder. Darren Collison is one of the best point guards in the country, and Russell Westbrook is extremely athletic. Josh Shipp is a scorer.

Contenders: Stanford played very well during the middle part of the conference season, before losing its final two games of the year on the road. The Cardinal have the frontcourt to compete with anyone in the country, led by All-American Brook Lopez. His twin brother, Robin, is a very good shot-blocker and rebounder, while Lawrence Hill is solid offensively. In the backcourt, Anthony Goods leads the way. Washington State came into the season as a preseason top-10 team and reached the top-five earlier this year. However, the Cougars struggled a little bit in the middle part of the league season. Kyle Weaver is one of the best two-way players in the country, due to his athleticism and length. His backcourt partner, Derrick Low, is a very solid all-around player; Taylor Rochestie does all the little things. Aron Baynes is the go-to-guy up front. USC could be a potential sleeper in the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans have some of the best talent in the country, especially if Daniel Hackett is healthy (which he certainly isn’t right now). O.J. Mayo has started to dominate if necessary, but he is also playing within the team. Davon Jefferson is highly talented, and Taj Gibson can make an impact at both ends of the floor. Dwight Lewis is good at both ends of the floor.

Sleeper: A team to watch out for could be Oregon. The Ducks are playing well heading into the tournament, as they finished the regular-season on a three-game winning streak. They also played UCLA and USC close on the road before the recent stretch. They have plenty of offensive options, including all-around stud Malik Hairston and shooter Tajuan Porter. Bryce Taylor can score, while Maarty Leunen is an inside-outside threat. Joevan Catron is tough down low.

Prediction: Although the Pac-10 is the best conference in the country, the conference tournament is UCLA’s to lose, without a doubt. The Bruins are the best team in the conference and one of the best in the country; there’s certainly a gap between them and the rest of the contenders in the league. Still, anything can happen in March – and the Bruins have proved they aren’t invincible. I think they will have a tough time in the semifinals with USC before advancing. On the other side of the bracket, the winner of the Washington State-Oregon quarterfinal game will make the title game – in this case, it will be the Cougars in a tight one. And, although it lacks excitement, I’m going with UCLA to win the automatic bid.

First Round
#7 Arizona over #10 Oregon State
#9 California over #8 Washington

#1 UCLA over #9 California
#4 USC over #5 Arizona State
#3 Washington State over #6 Oregon
#2 Stanford over #7 Arizona

#1 UCLA over #4 USC
#3 Washington State over #2 Stanford

#1 UCLA over #3 Washington State

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