Commentary

No way around it: It's been a struggle

Originally Published: December 23, 2009
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

UCLAAP Photo/Jason RedmondUCLA has already piled up losses to Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and Portland.

Favorite: California
The Bears get the slight edge over Washington with the return of Theo Robertson. The senior guard play of Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher, coupled with Robertson, gives the Bears three experienced, productive players. Washington still has the talent with Isaiah Thomas averaging 20 ppg and Quincy Pondexter playing great and having the season of his life. But the Bears seem to be a little bit more seasoned, and Mike Montgomery has dealt with this situation more than Lorenzo Romar.

Most surprising: Arizona State
I must admit that I thought the Sun Devils could finish near the bottom of the standings. I clearly underestimated the power of Herb. Coach Herb Sendek has done quite a job getting ASU's offense moving without James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph. The Sun Devils are averaging 71.2 points a game, and Rihards Kuksiks, Derek Glasser, Eric Boateng and Trent Lockett have been solid. Arizona State will be a factor in the league this season.

Most disappointing: UCLA
No way around this. The Bruins have had injuries and defections, but losing four games in the nearby city of Anaheim is hard to explain. Even after winning two of its last three before Christmas, UCLA is just 4-7. The Bruins have already lost to two Big West schools (Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State) and a WCC upstart (Portland). The talent is better than this.

Mystery team: Stanford
The Cardinal were projected to finish last in the Pac-10, yet they took Kentucky to overtime in Cancun, Mexico, and nearly clipped Oklahoma State, losing by one. Then again, they also have losses to San Diego and Oral Roberts. Stanford has a potential Pac-10 Player of the Year in Landry Fields, who is averaging 23 points a game. But Fields may not win the award if the Cardinal finish near the bottom of the standings.

[+] EnlargeKlay Thompson
AP Photo/Dean HareThompson (25 ppg) is the nation's third-leading scorer and has led Wazzu to a 10-2 start.

Best player: Klay Thompson, So., Washington State
If UCLA -- in desperate need of a scorer -- had Thompson on the roster, the Bruins wouldn't be as down right now. Thompson seems to be more free under Ken Bone and is flourishing, scoring 25 points a game, making 48 percent of his shots, 45 percent of his 3s and nearly 80 percent of his free throws.

Top performance: Thompson scored 43 points, making 16 of 24 shots (8-of-13 on 3s), with five boards, four assists and two steals in a 93-56 Great Alaska Shootout title victory over San Diego on Nov. 28.

Strangest score: Sacramento St. 65, Oregon St. 63
The Beavers have struggled to find their identity this season after such a positive end to the 2008-09 campaign. Sac State has been irrelevant for some time and was 2-27 -- yes, 2-27 -- last season. OSU also has losses to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (by 24) and Illinois-Chicago. The Beavers had seemingly eradicated the confidence issues of that demoralizing 0-18 league record of two seasons ago, but this season has been a disappointment.

What you might not have realized: How few returning stars there are in this league. USC doesn't have one. Arizona has only Nic Wise. Oregon has Tajuan Porter. WSU has Thompson. Washington has Thomas and Pondexter. UCLA has no one. Stanford has Fields. Oregon State has Roeland Schaftenaar, and Cal has the above trio. This is a league that was destined to be damaged from departures.

Reason to brag: Prior to Dec. 22, Washington hadn't beaten anyone of note (save for a win over once-surging Portland), yet didn't drop out of the coaches' poll. The Huskies lost their two big games at Texas Tech in overtime and to Georgetown, but still had the national respect among coaching peers to get ranked. Then they finally proved worthy with Tuesday's 73-64 win over Texas A&M. USC's blowout win over Tennessee was also a shot in the arm for the league.

Reason to worry: There is a chance the league could get one bid, which has never happened to a power six league since the tournament expanded. But if the league doesn't have a win better than the Tennessee win by USC in the nonconference slate, the teams beat one another to the point where the champ and second-place team have six or so losses, it might be hard to get a second bid. That's still unlikely, but a two-bid scenario heading into the conference tournament (like the SEC had last season) is a high probability.

Who's going dancing: Cal and Washington are the most likely. They are the two most talented teams and should create some space at the top of the standings. The Bears can use Robertson's injury (as well as Harper Kamp's) early in the season as a needed crutch with the committee. But don't be shocked to see a third team like Wazzu or USC or Oregon or Oregon State or maybe even UCLA make a three-game run in Los Angeles in March.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com