A Quick Look Around The League
By Andy Katz
In a 90-day span, the Wildcats went from a team that might struggle to win a game or two in the Pac-10 to being a legit contender. Kentucky's John Calipari had possibly the best late-signing period ever, but Sean Miller wasn't too far behind his close friend. The Wildcats picked up legitimate contributors at every position. If Zona can get something out of returnees Jamelle Horne
and Kyle Fogg
to complement Nic Wise
, who's easily one of the top point guards in the West, Arizona will have a real shot to make the NCAA tournament yet again.
Herb Sendek did a great job the past two seasons in putting the Sun Devils into postseason play. The program feels a good vibe after the James Harden
era, even though this will be another rebuilding project for Sendek. Getting freshman Trent Lockett for both summer sessions was huge for his early development. He's expected to be a major contributor. A year ago, ASU was still searching for its first NCAA appearance since 2003, didn't have a first-team All-American and was without a practice facility. All of those things have happened, which of course raise the profile of the program. Now the Sun Devils have to try to emerge through a transition season unscathed by the bruise of losing a star player to the NBA two years early.
's decision to return to school instead of enter the NBA draft means the Bears return arguably the best backcourt in the West. I know Washington would debate, but the combination of Christopher and Jerome Randle
might be hard to beat. They averaged a combined 32 points per game last season, and there is no reason to believe they can't match that again. Christopher did the Nike Skills tour, while Randle played plenty of pickup at the San Francisco pro-am summer league and then headed home to Chicago to train with NBA-level players. If Harper Kamp
is healthy after offseason knee surgery, the Bears should be ready to roll from the opening tip.
Last season was the Ducks' most disappointing season of Ernie Kent's career. But the embattled coach has taken his alma mater to two Elite Eights and generally rises to the challenge just when it looks as though Oregon is going downhill. Talk to every coach in the league, and the consensus is that UO's two-win 2008-09 season won't be repeated. The Ducks are a legit contender to finish as high as third. Tajuan Porter
is back for a senior season and has stud freshman Jamil Wilson around. The expectation is that Michael Dunigan
will flourish in his second season in Eugene. The coaching staff already is abuzz over how he dropped 25 pounds in the offseason and put on more muscle. If Dunigan can be a force inside, the Ducks should be able to rebound.
The Beavers were the surprise of the Pac-10 last season, but the secret is out: A true home-court advantage exists again at Gill Coliseum. The Beavers didn't know how to win early last season, losing games against lower-level Division I teams. By the time they reached Pac-10 play, though, they figured it out and swept Cal and took down Stanford and USC. The expectation is that Oregon State could compete for a top-three Pac-10 finish. Roeland Schaftenaar
should be an All-Pac-10 performer from the opening tip. It's hard to find another player who fit his new coach better than he did for Craig Robinson last season. Calvin Haynes
, the Beavers' leading scorer, had minor knee surgery in the offseason but should be good to go in the fall. If the freshmen play significant minutes as expected, the returnees will be fresher in the final minutes in league play. OSU doesn't have a monster schedule, but winning road games against GWU, Texas Tech and Nebraska are all important to increasing the profile for a possible bid.
The Cardinal lost three major contributors in Mitch Johnson
, Lawrence Hill
and Anthony Goods
, meaning there is a major rebuilding project on the Farm. Junior Josh Owens
has to be a major force in the post. He averaged 6.9 points and a modest 3.6 boards a game last season. The newcomers -- Andy Brown
, Gabriel Harris
and transfer Andrew Zimmerman
-- will have to produce. The staff may be most excited about sophomore Jeremy Green
. He played in 34 games last season but started only two. He averaged just 6.4 points and 2.1 rebounds in 15.6 minutes and shot 43.2 percent. But he did make 47 3s. If he can be the long-distance marksman for the Cardinal, that certainly will change the perception of this squad. Playing at Northwestern, hosting Oklahoma State and then facing Virginia and possibly Kentucky in Cancun will say a lot about what will happen in the Pac-10.
This is a whole new era for coach Ben Howland. The Bruins don't have Alfred Aboya
, Josh Shipp
or Darren Collison
for the first time in four years. The three-year Final Four run now seems like distant history. The Bruins will be leaning heavily on potential stud Malcolm Lee
as well as Drew Gordon
, Nikola Dragovic
, Michael Roll
, Jerime Anderson
, James Keefe
and J'mison Morgan
-- not exactly national names. But the competition at every position should be as intense as it has been under Howland. He will be searching for an identity for this squad early and often in fall practices. Lee might hold the only lock on a position, while the rest clearly are open. UCLA has a challenging nonconference slate, but the talent should carry this squad toward the top of the Pac-10, getting the Bruins enough wins to make another NCAA tournament appearance.
The Trojans could have been a threat to go to Indy had nothing changed from the spring -- had all the recruits stayed, Tim Floyd not resigned and Taj Gibson
and Daniel Hackett
opted to stay instead of declare for the NBA draft. But none of that happened. The expectations are now much lower, but the pieces are still there for USC to be a threat to finish high in the Pac-10. Kevin O'Neill has a post scorer in Alex Stepheson, a shooter in Dwight Lewis
, enforcers in Leonard Washington
and Marcus Simmons
and a wing who can flourish on the break in Marcus Johnson
. If Nikola Vucevic
can play as well as he did for Montenegro (15.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg), the Trojans may receive an unexpected offensive pop. Donte Smith
has lost weight and is hoping to secure the open point guard spot. The Trojans' slate of games against Texas, at Georgia Tech and Nebraska and Tennessee at home will put them to the test early.
The Huskies stunned UCLA last season and won the Pac-10 outright with a 14-4 record. But Jon Brockman
, one of the hardest workers to come through Lorenzo Romar's program, is gone. Finding someone to replace his 11.5 boards a game will be a chore, but the guard play should make Washington one of the more intriguing teams to watch this season. Not having Justin Dentmon
hurts in terms of money shots and experience. However, the quickness of leading scorer Isaiah Thomas
, the addition of Abdul Gaddy and the return of Venoy Overton
give the Huskies a three-guard look that might be hard to match. The only disappointment early in the season is that U-Dub isn't challenging itself much outside the league. The Georgetown game will draw national attention, but hosting Texas A&M and going to Texas Tech won't draw too much attention. This team is too good to be in obscurity for the first two months of the season.
Former coach Tony Bennett can say unequivocally that he left the program in better shape than when he arrived. Plenty of coaches would gladly take Klay Thompson
, DeAngelo Casto
and Brock Motum. New coach Ken Bone has enough talent to make a run at the Pac-10's upper crust. Bone has said throughout the summer that if he can get quality play from his role players, the Cougs will have a chance. One of Bone's best moves was to retain assistant Ben Johnson, a connection to Australia because he played in the country. He is likely the one that kept Motum in Pullman. He's also one of the main reasons WSU has done a great job developing talent. If late signees Reggie Moore and Steven Bjornstad can contribute, too, Bone will have the depth needed to hang around the upper echelon of the Pac-10.
By Doug Gottlieb
It's never too early for predictions. Doug Gottlieb offers up his thoughts on the upcoming season in the Pac-10:
Swept Washington last season and lost no one of consequence. Jerome Randle might be the best big-shot-maker on the West Coast, and Patrick Christopher
is probably the most underrated wing in the country. Coach Monty will make them guard. Although the Cal bigs are still limited offensively, they are old, tough and know their roles. Theo Robertson
is sneaky good, too.
The Huskies have the best home court in the league and have used it to beat UCLA in Seattle five straight times. Abdul Gaddy
is a true point who will make Isaiah Thomas
and Venoy Overton
better. Few can beat you off the dribble better than Thomas. Jon Brockman
was a beast inside, and his offensive rebounding will be missed, so the Dawgs must get stepped-up production from their bigs. Continuing to be the most prolific free throw shooting team in the league would help as well. Quincy Pondexter
is the X factor. If he goes Casper, so will U-Dub's repeat conference title hopes.
3. Oregon State:
It's Year 2 in the Princeton offense, and the Beavers get a full season of Calvin Haynes
(who didn't play the first month of last season, during which OSU went 1-5). Haynes and Roeland Schaftenaar
are killers in this offense. The Beavs also have some legit incoming talent in addition to their returning top four scorers.
Talentwise, the Bruins are down. That's just a fact. But Ben Howland will win games with his defense and the team's cohesion more so than when Kevin Love and Darren Collison
were bailing them out. Malcolm Lee
has to be the type of on-the-ball defender Darren Collison was the past three years, and Mike Moser
and Tyler Honeycutt
must contribute right away. Otherwise, how will the Bruins score?
Although the program may feel it is circling the drain, the talent on the floor should keep USC in the hunt. UNC transfer Alex Stepheson joins Marcus Simmons
, Marcus Johnson
and Dwight Lewis
to give Kevin O'Neill strong, athletic and experienced players all over the floor. And two-time transfer Mike Gerrity (Pepperdine and Charlotte) will be eligible after the fall semester, a nice bonus. The Trojans will be interesting, to say the least.
Sean Miller has done a nice job of fixing some of the cracks in the dike at Zona, and with Nic Wise
back, the Cats still should be solid. If Jamelle Horne
comes up big and Derrick Williams
, Solomon Hill
and Kyryl Natyazhko
are impact freshmen, the amazing NCAA tournament streak very well could continue.
The Ducks are hugely talented but were a complete joke with their shot selection and overall defense last season. Michael Dunigan
and Tajuan Porter
could be a lethal combination in Oregon's final season at Mac Court. But something is amiss when a new assistant gets 400K per year and 300K just to sign. Who is the coach: Ernie Kent or Mike Dunlap?
8. Washington State:
Ken Bone inherits arguably the best future pro in the league in Klay Thompson
, who, along with DeAngelo Casto
should thrive in the up-tempo style Bone employs. But Taylor Rochestie
and Aron Baynes
are huge losses for the Cougars.
9. Arizona State: Derek Glasser
is solid and Demetrius Walker
is a talented newcomer, and we know a Herb Sendek-coached team will not beat itself. But there is no James Harden, and there is no Jeff Pendergraph
, either. That means there will be no NCAA tournament.
Johnny Dawkins has struggled with his first recruiting class, and although his verbal commits for this year are better, they cannot help him this season. Landry Fields
is legit, but he won't have enough help around him to keep the Cardinal from falling to the conference basement.