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BtB 2009-10 Pac-10 Preview

Last year, the Pac-10 was sneaky good on the national stage, sending 90 percent of its membership to the postseason with little preseason fanfare. However, the postseason ended up being a bit of a downer for the six teams who made the NCAAs, as only Arizona, who was probably the last team in the field of 65, made the second weekend. The College Basketball Invitational was a bigger success, as Oregon State and Stanford met in a semifinal. The Beavers won that matchup and ended up as champions--after they defeated UTEP in a three-game series. Oddly enough, Oregon State had to win the CBI to get to .500 for the year, which is a major accomplishment considering where the Beavers were before Craig Robinson's arrival.

All of that success came at a price for last year's contenders. Six Pac-10 players were selected in the first round of the NBA Draft: Pac-10 Player of the Year James Harden (Arizona State), All-Pac 10 first teamer Jordan Hill (Arizona), all-freshman selection DeMar DeRozan (USC), Jrue Holliday (UCLA), first team selection Darren Collison (also UCLA), and second teamer Taj Gibson (USC). Three more players, first-teamers Jeff Pendergraph (ASU), John Brockman (Washington), and Chase Budinger (also U of A), were selected in the second round. Of those nine, five were underclassmen.

That means the conference will have to try to replicate its success with only two all-Pac-10 first-teamers back (Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle of California) and just two second-teamers, including Freshman of the Year Isaiah Thomas (UW), returning. That means those two teams, who unarguably lost the least, start out as the favorites. UCLA should fit in right behind, though they'll be young. Arizona should also be able to contend, though. much like the Bruins much depends on newcomers, and late signings at that. Oregon State, who should be even better in their second season in Robinson's system, could surprise more than West Coasters this time around, especially as most of their roster is intact. Among the remaining five teams, things are muddled. That mess may become clearer during the non-conference season.

The league also turned over 30 percent of its coaches during the offseason. I'll discuss those changes in each team's individual write up after the jump.

First, here's a look at the final 2008-09 Pac-10 standings.

Pacific-10 Conference Standings

(updated 4.4.2009 at 12:56 AM EDT)

Conf Overall
Washington Huskies 14 4 26 9
UCLA Bruins 13 5 26 9
Arizona St. Sun Devils 11 7 25 10
California Golden Bears 11 7 22 11
USC Trojans 9 9 22 13
Arizona Wildcats 9 9 21 14
Washington St. Cougars 8 10 17 16
Oregon St. Beavers 7 11 18 18
Stanford Cardinal 6 12 20 14
Oregon Ducks 2 16 8 23

Now here are my picks for the 2009-10 season, presented in reverse order. If a team's name is a link, click it to go to that school's SBN site, where you'll find in-depth, team-specific analysis during the season.


Stanford (last NCAA: 2008) Johnny Dawkins' task wasn't going to be easy this season, as he had to replace his two leading scorers (Anthony Goods and Lawrence Hill) and his starting backcourt (Goods and Mitch Johnson). His task was made more difficult when start recruit Andy Brown was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Today, Dawkins indefinitely suspended guard Jeremy Green (6.4 ppg, 45.6% from 3, 2.1 rpg) for violating team rules further reducing the Cardinal roster. The best news for Dawkins is that senior forward Landry Fields (12.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is still around. He and 6-9 center Josh Owens (6.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg) will anchor the frontcourt, but inexperience in the backcourt could lead to Stanford spending a second straight year near the bottom of the league. The Cardinal will play in Cancun over Thanksgiving, where they'll face Virginia, then either Cleveland State or Kentucky.


USC (last NCAA: 2009) Tim Floyd left not long after he interviewed for the opportunity to be Lute Olson's replacement at Arizona. Replacing Floyd is...Kevin O'Neill, who was the coach-in-waiting in Tucson during the 2007-08 season. He faces a serious rebuilding project, as the Trojans second, third, and fourth leading scorers--Gibson, DeRozan, and Daniel Hackett of a year ago are all gone. Leading scorer Dwight Lewis (14.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg) is back, however, to anchor a frontcourt that should be respectable, as 6-9 UNC transfer Alex Stephenson is newly-eligible and 6-6 Marcus Johnson will be back from a shoulder injury. They'll join returnees Leonard Washington (6.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Nikola Vucevic (2.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg). The backcourt is a major question mark though, as junior Donte Smith and freshman Percy Miller (aka Lil' Romeo) will compete with Charlotte transfer Mike Gerrity for the point guard spot that was supposed to be filled by Lamont Jones. The Trojans will spend Christmas in Hawai'i, which should be a winnable tournament, even in a down year.


Arizona State (last NCAA: 2009) The Sun Devils return three starters, most notably senior point guard Derek Glasser (8.8 ppg, 4.8 apg). However, the two starters who left are big pieces to replace, Harden and Pendergraph. Herb Sendek will have to rely on several returnees who saw little playing time last season and a boatload of newcomers, led by 7-2 Russian center Ruslan Pateev and 6-2 local product Demetrius Walker, to replace all of that production. Sendek's team should once again be one of the best in the country defensively (if the newbies buy into his system), but the big question will be can he get enough scoring. The Sun Devils host the West regional of the NIT, where Cal State-Northridge and TCU appear to be their biggest obstacles to getting to New York.


Washington State (last NCAA: 2008) Like the rest of the teams in what I'm projecting as the Pac-10's second division for this year, the Cougars lost significant scoring punch at the end of last season. In this case, their top two scorers are gone, Taylor Rochestie (13.2 ppg, 4.5 apg) and Aron Bynes (12.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg). As you can see, the Cougs' former point guard and center brought more to the table than just points. So the challenge for former Portland State head coach Ken Bone in his first year as Tony Bennett's replacement is to find players who can fill those gaps, all while complementing 6-6 sophomore G Klay Thompson (12.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg), one of the best shooters in the conference. 6-8 sophomore and 6-9 Australian freshman Brock Motum will be called on to fill Bynes' spot, while Thompson will be supported by a couple of youngsters in the backcourt--Reggie Moore and Xavier Thomas. The Cougars head north for Thanksgiving. They'll compete in a Great Alaska Shootout group that includes hosts Alaska-Anchorage and Nicholls State. If they win both of those, they'll probably face Oklahoma in the final.


Oregon (last NCAA: 2008) Despite all the rumors to the contrary, Ernie Kent is still the head man in Eugene. Sure the Ducks only won 8 games during all of last year, including only two in the league, but that was with a team that featured eight freshmen. This year's Oregon outfit should be a bit more experienced, and may be even better next year, as leading scorer Tajuan Porter (15.4 ppg) and Joevan Catron (7.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg) are the only seniors on the roster. There's also only one junior, 6-5 swingman LeKendrick Longmire (9.9 ppg. 3.7 rpg). Kent really needs to get someone to play at the point, however, with JC transfer Malcolm Armstead the best hope. One of his teammates at Chipola CC, 6-7 F Jeremy Jacob is also expected to be a major contributor to the frontcourt alongside Catron, Longmire, and 6-10 C Michael Durnigan (8.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg). The Ducks will host a four-team round-robin very early in the season, where Colorado State should be their main competition for the title.


Arizona (last NCAA: 2009) Sean Miller left Xavier to replace Russ Pennell who replaced Kevin O'Neill who filled in for Lute Olson. His first couple of tasks in Tucson have to be considered major successes, as he kept 5-10 guard Nic Wise (15.7 ppg, 4.6 apg) from joining Hill and Budinger in the NBA. Then, he snagged a late recruiting class that should help keep the Wildcats competitive in the Pac-10. 6-6 Solomon Hill and 6-10, 255 pound C Kyryl Natyazhko will provide support to Jamelle Horne (6.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) in the frontcourt. Two New Yorkers 5-11 Lamont Jones and 6-6 swingman Kevin Parrom could bring a whole new dimension to the Cats' game. The new look Wildcats get their first real test in Maui, where they open with Wisconsin and could face old tournament rival Gonzaga in their second game.


Oregon State (last NCAA: 1990) The Beavers edged toward respectability last year, claiming the CBI crown, beating Stanford in 3 or 4 meetings (the one loss was arguably the most crucial, in the Pac-10 tourney), and sweeping Cal (though they did provide the Ducks one of their two league triumphs). When I saw them play in their first game of last season, I thought it would be a very long season for Craig Robinson's squad. But they grew throughout the year and now they'll try to take the next step nationally. Point guard Rickey Claitt (7.4 ppg, 2.5 apg) is gone, but point center Roeland Schaftenaar (10.5 ppg. 4 rpg, 3.3 apg) is back. So is leading scorer Calvin Haynes (13 ppg, 3 rpg) and the Tarver brothers, starting PG Josh (3.9 ppg. 1.5 apg) and Seth (8 ppg, 5.4 rpg). The newcomers are a promising group as well. They include two Aussie forwards, Angus Brandt and Rhys Murphy, 6-7 forward Joe Burton, and guards Jared Cunningham and Roberto Nelson. Richmond transfer Chris Richard is also eligible this season, and he'll help bolster the backcourt. The Beavers will open their regular season in Lubbock as part of a four-team tournament. They'll challenge host Texas Tech for the title.


UCLA (last NCAA: 2009) A team that lost four of its top five leading scorers probably shouldn't be rated third in this league, but considering the roster changes and inexperience that hound teams four through 10, the Bruins sit here for the moment. Of course, Ben Howland's team could start slowly, as they've turned into the walking wounded during preseason practices. Forward Nikola Dragovic (9.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and G/F Michael Roll (6.7 ppg) are the Bruins two leading returning scorers, and Drew Gordon (3.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg) will undoubtedly get better with more time on the court. This season, Howland's freshmen, led by 6-9 swingman Tyler Honeycutt, 6-8 F Reeves Nelson, and 6-8 Mike Moser, are going to have to carry a lot of the load. The Bruins will anchor the 76 Classic, where they'll open with WCC contender Portland before facing a tough second opponent, Butler or Minnesota.


California (last NCAA: 2009) Mike Montgomery started to earn the trust of Cal fans last season, but if he can bring a Pac-10 crown to Berkeley, Golden Bear fans maybe, just maybe, able to stop seeing him as a Stanford guy. In a league decimated by player departures, Cal only lost only center Jordan Wilkes (4.7 ppg, 4 rpg). Their four leading scorers are back: Randle (18.3 ppg, 5 apg), Christopher (14.3 ppg, 2.1 apg), 6-6 F Theo Robertson (13.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.5 apg), and 6-8 F Jamal Boykin (9.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg). Montgomery's biggest challenge is getting more out of his bench, which is led by hardworking guard Jorge Gutierrez. He also needs to find a replacement for Wilkes. That could be 6-7 JC transfer Markhuri Sanders-Frison, but 6-10 Sudanese prospect Bak Bak could be an intriguing player for the Bears. Cal heads east for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, where they'll open with a Syracuse team who will have homecourt advantage at MSG. The winner of that tilt faces North Carolina or Ohio State. A trip to Lawrence to face Kansas also looms large.


Washington (last NCAA: 2009) Lorenzo Romar lost two key players off last year's Pac-10 champs, Brockman and G Justin Dentmon (14.5 ppg, 2.5 apg, 1.5 spg), but he recruited well. 6-3 Tacoma product Abdul Gaddy should slide into Dentmon's spot on the roster. Gaddy will focus on the point, while Thomas will play more in the 2 slot. Inside, 6-7 Clarence Trent will support senior Quincy Pondexter (12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg), and 6-9 junior Matthew Bryan-Amaning (6 ppg, 4 rpg) should increase his contributions. The main challenge for UW will be replacing Brockman's prowess on the boards. He averaged nearly 12 a game, and it will be no small feat to replace them. The Huskies host a four-team round-robin tournament to open the season, featuring Belmont, Portland State, and Wright State. They also play Georgetown in this year's edition of the Wooden Classic.

It was a tough choice, but I'm picking Washington to edge Cal in the league race this season. The Huskies will hold Pac-10's auto bid in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket, which I will release on November 9. Tune back in then to see my first guess at the number of bids the conference could receive in what might be a down year. Now, to wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-Pac-10 team, featuring the best returning players from last season.

Preseason All-Pac-10 Team

Player of the Year: Jerome Randle, 5-10 G, Sr. (California)

Remainder of the Team
Patrick Christopher, 6-5 G, Sr. (California)
Quincy Pondexter, 6-6 F, Sr. (Washington)
Isaiah Thomas, 5-8 G, So. (Washington)
Nic Wise, 5-10 G, Sr. (Arizona)