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Well, what can we say about the Pac-10 this season? Most people knew the league would be down this year, but this bad? The Pac-10 put forth one of the worst seasons for a “BCS” conference in decades, with only one NCAA Tournament berth guaranteed heading into the latter part of Championship Week. They were ranked No. 8 in the RPI and had just three teams finish better than two games above .500 overall. California, one of the preseason favorites, won the league with a 13-5 record, ahead of Arizona State and Washington. Arizona was the lone other team to finish above .500. What will the conference tournament bring?
Favorite: California has been unfairly grouped in with the rest of the conference this season. While the Golden Bears have some questionable losses (UCLA, Oregon State, etc.) and don’t have a gaudy record due to a brutal non-conference schedule, they are a threat to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. Cal is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, taking care of the ball and crashing the glass. Moreover, the Golden Bears are highly-effective from both inside and outside the arc. Defensively, they guard the perimeter and don’t allow second chances. Jerome Randle is one of the most exciting guards in the country, and Patrick Christopher is a great second option. When healthy, Theo Robertson can flat-out shoot, and Jamal Boykin provides a frontcourt presence. Jorge Gutierrez is a defensive pest.
Contenders: Arizona State shook off the loss of James Harden and James Pendergraph to somehow finish second in the Pac-10 and win 22 games overall. The Sun Devils have won six of seven and 12 of 16, and do hold at-large hopes. ASU is an efficient half-court team that shoots very accurately and also contests shots at the other end. Ty Abbott is the primary scorer, while Rihards Kuksiks is a match-up problem due to his shooting ability. Derek Glasser is an underrated point guard, and Erik Boateng has stepped up this season. Washington came into the season as one of the favorites to win the conference. However, the Huskies started off terrible in Pac-10 play, going 1-3 – including a home loss to Oregon. UW turned it around, though, winning nine of its last 11 heading into the tourney. The Huskies love to get up-and-down the court, attacking the basket and getting to the foul line. Defensively, they force turnovers and guard the perimeter. Forward Quincy Pondexter and guard Isaiah Thomas form one of the most productive duos in the country, while Matthew Bryan-Amaning bangs inside and Venoy Overton runs the show.
Sleeper: Arizona seems like the best bet to make a deep run out of the rest of the conference. Just about five weeks ago, Arizona had defeated California at home to move into a tie for first place with the Golden Bears. Automatic bid dreams danced in the young Wildcats’ heads – and they proceeded to lose four of their next five games before rebounding to win their last three. Nic Wise is a point guard capable of taking over a game, and freshman forward Derrick Williams has been a very productive player this season. Kyle Fogg can shoot, and Jamelle Horne leads a host of versatile players.
Prediction: No prediction is safe in the Pac-10, given the uncertainty and unpredictability of the league this season. Every team in the league has at least six conference wins, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team like Washington State, led by Klay Thompson, or inexperienced UCLA make a run. However, it’s going to come down to the top three teams. Arizona State and Washington are on a collision course to play what will amount to a play-in game for an at-large bid. I think that the Huskies will emerge to face California in a match-up of the two preseason favorites. Like I picked prior to the year, I like California to defeat Washington – the Golden Bears are more consistent and efficient.