Pac-10 ShootAround: Three new head coaches arrive as conference rebuilds

Updated: August 31, 2009

Brett Davis/US Presswire

A Southern California program mired in NCAA controversy has turned to Kevin O'Neill to right the ship.

10 Things To Know From The Offseason

1. Turmoil at USC: Tim Floyd's decision to resign is still hard to fathom for members of his staff. They fully expected him to fight the allegations that he paid $1,000 to O.J. Mayo's handler, Rodney Guillory. Instead, Floyd folded and went home to Mississippi. The move meant the recruiting class collapsed and USC was officially in rebuilding mode. USC athletic director Mike Garrett pushed to get Pitt coach Jamie Dixon multiple times before he was rebuffed. He also interviewed former Sacramento Kings Reggie Theus. There were flirtations with others in the NBA, but Garrett decided on Kevin O'Neill. The onetime Arizona interim coach and former head coach at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern (who also made various stops in the NBA) shouldn't offer much change on the court because O'Neill, like Floyd, is a defensive-minded coach. But the challenge will be in recruiting. Don't expect the new coach to deal with handlers, whether doing so is clean or not. How O'Neill handles this gig will be one of the more interesting things to watch.

2. Signs of stabilization: The Trojans already were dealing with a recruiting mess, but it could have been made much worse had there been a massive defection. Keeping the staff intact under O'Neill helped. It also didn't hurt that some of the players had limited options. Seniors Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson couldn't have gone anywhere in Division I, and UNC transfer Alex Stepheson wasn't going to sit out another season. Keeping Leonard Washington and Marcus Simmons also was key in allowing the Trojans to maintain a strong man presence on defense. And Donte Smith gives the Trojans at least one point guard going forward.

3. Zona saves face, then raids USC: Arizona would have had serious egg on its face had it hired Tim Floyd. Landing Sean Miller was a major coup. He won big at Xavier and did it without indiscretion. He is a player's coach and loves to push the basketball, which was Lute Olson's forte for a quarter century. Miller kept up with two players he had been recruiting for Xavier, Kyryl Natyazhko and Kevin Parrom, who will play for the Wildcats. But the major coup was landing three players who had committed to USC: Lamont Jones, Solomon Hill and Derrick Williams. USC was expecting to make a run for a top-five finish in the Pac-10 with those recruits. Now Arizona can expect the same.

4. Wise decision: No one would have blamed Nic Wise if he had kept his name in the NBA draft, even if he wouldn't be selected. Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill had left, and he was about to play for his fourth coach in four seasons. But Wise was rational in his thinking and discovered he was better off returning and playing for a coach who can ensure he'll put up big numbers. Wise wasn't ready for the World University Games trials after withdrawing from the draft. But he should be good to go in the fall and, with a stellar recruiting class on board behind him, has a chance to lead the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament for the 26th straight season.

5. Wazzu pair star at USA trials: For the second time in three years, Washington State had two members on a USA Basketball team. Klay Thompson was a solid contributor for the gold-medal-winning under-19 team in New Zealand, averaging 7.8 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 51.6 percent of his 3s. He didn't show signs that his slight frame would be an issue. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Casto earned a spot with his rugged play at the trials. But a knee injury limited him to playing in just four of the nine games. He returned stateside to have surgery but is expected to be fine for the start of the season. Washington State coach Ken Bone has two anchors to keep the Cougars in the chase for an NCAA tourney berth.

6. Lee blossoms during the summer: Malcolm Lee came to UCLA with plenty of hype, but there was a logjam last season with Darren Collison returning and Jrue Holiday taking up plenty of minutes as a star freshman. Lee averaged 10.7 minutes in 29 games, putting up a modest 3.2 points and 0.6 assists a game. But the UCLA staff is giddy over reports that Lee became a workaholic this summer. He needed to and had to, because he'll be the Bruins' featured perimeter player. Lee increased his shooting range, and the expectation is he'll make a major jump from his freshman to sophomore seasons.

Quincy Pondexter

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

With Jon Brockman gone, Quincy Pondexter will be leaned upon heavily in the Washington frontcourt.

7. Pondexter earns spot at WUG: Washington's Quincy Pondexter needed to step out on his own this summer. He averaged 12.1 points and 5.9 boards last season, but he was playing in the shadow of Jon Brockman, the best rebounder the Huskies have seen. UW will be loaded on the perimeter, but rebounding will be by committee unless Pondexter can muster more work on the boards. He played well in the trials to earn a spot on the U.S. roster at the World University Games in Serbia, but he averaged only three rebounds a game during the event. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar was thrilled Pondexter earned the spot, but the forward still needs to improve his board work.

8. Oregon hires Mike Dunlap: Dunlap turned down Arizona's interim head-coaching job last year, allowing Russ Pennell to be the face of the program. But Dunlap was behind the scenes, using his basketball smarts to help the Wildcats reach the NCAA tournament. Oregon coach Ernie Kent shook up his staff by hiring Dunlap as his associate head coach and firing Mark Hudson, who had spent 12 seasons in Eugene. According to The Oregonian, Dunlap signed a two-year deal that will pay him $400,000 a year, with a signing bonus of $300,000 and additional incentives based on whether the Ducks make the NCAA tourney. That's big bucks for an assistant. Along with Kent, the pressure is on Dunlap to deliver and push OU out of the Pac-10 cellar.

9. Oregon State continues to recruit well: Beavers coach Craig Robinson hasn't had as much trouble selling Corvallis and Oregon State as originally projected when he earned the gig in 2008. The 2009 class was better than expected with contributors Joe Burton, Roberto Nelson, Rhys Murphy, Jared Cunningham and Australian Angus Brandt. Robinson then kept up his Chicago connections by locking up a commitment from Whitney Young High point guard Ahmad Starks. The Beavers were one of the surprise teams last season, claiming seven Pac-10 victories after none in 2007-08 and then winning the College Basketball Invitational. But to take the next step (the Big Dance), the Beavers would need to recruit well in 2009 and '10. So far, that has occurred.

10. Bears' Zhang shines for China: Max Zhang was an afterthought on California's roster last season. In just 15 games, the 7-foot-3 freshman center averaged just 1.3 points and 0.6 rebounds in 4.5 minutes a game. But he may have been the surprise of the summer out of the Pac-10. Zhang played for his native China at the World University Games, and he led the Chinese in rebounding in five of six games while averaging 18 points and 17.3 rebounds for the tournament. He led all players with his scoring and blocks (a total of 34 for an average of 5.6 a game). He was seventh in scoring and posted two triple-doubles. If he can do half of that for the Bears this season, they'll improve inside with a player they hardly expected to get better.

10 Key Players

Solomon Hill, Arizona: The freshman forward is considered one of the better offensive players in the high school Class of 2009. Hill flopped from Arizona to USC back to Arizona in his recruiting process. He should flourish under new coach Sean Miller, who always had his teams push the ball at Xavier. Hill can be a point-forward for the Wildcats, giving Miller even more offensive flexibility.

Jamil Wilson, Oregon: Michigan State and Texas really coveted the freshman forward from Wisconsin. But Ducks assistant Kenny Payne worked his connections in the Midwest to land Wilson, who could end up being the Pac-10 freshman of the year. He's a skilled wing who can shoot from the baseline extended and handle the fall facing the basket. Oregon desperately needs another legit scorer, and Wilson may deliver early and often.

Theo Robertson, Cal: Former Cal staffers have professed that had Robertson been healthy in 2007-08, they might still have their jobs. He was that critical to California. A year ago, in Mike Montgomery's first season, the 6-6 Robertson averaged 13.1 points and made 48.8 percent of his shots and 48.7 percent of his 3-pointers. Robertson had offseason hip surgery, but is expected to be ready to go in the fall. If his senior season is like his junior campaign, he'll prove to be just as valuable for the Bears.

Alex Stepheson, USC: Stepheson was a solid role player for North Carolina two seasons ago during the Tar Heels' run to the Final Four. He would have played a significant role last season had he stayed, especially with the early injury to Tyler Hansbrough. But Stepheson bolted to USC to be closer to his family. Even with the coaching change to Kevin O'Neill, Stepheson is still being billed as a defensive stopper and an anchor in the middle. He brings experience, skills and a hunger to produce after sitting out last season.

Landry Fields

Harry How/Getty Images

Landry Fields will need to continue his improvement for the rebuilding Cardinal to have any chance.

Landry Fields, Stanford: Fields performed quite well for first-year coach Johnny Dawkins last season. He went from averaging four points a game behind the Lopez twins to averaging a dozen last season. His minutes rose from 12 to 30 a game. Fields has a shot to be an All-Pac-10 performer on a rebuilding Stanford squad. If he can be a dominant scorer, the Cardinal have a chance to stay competitive in conference play.

Nikola Dragovic, UCLA: Dragovic is the Bruins' top returning scorer (9.4 points per game), and he made 38.2 percent of his 3s last season. But more will be expected as a senior. Dragovic isn't a star. He's a complementary player. But he still can do more if he gets the touches. Dragovic can play facing the basket and, if need be, use his body a bit more in the post. He can be a difficult matchup if he gets his shot off from deep. But he must make himself more of a factor, especially on the defensive end.

Roberto Nelson, Oregon State: Craig Robinson's pickup of Nelson was one of the first signs that he would be a player in the Southern California recruiting scene. He was coveted by the majority of Pac-10 schools and has the ball skills to flourish in Robinson's offensive passing-and-screening system. The Beavers return most of their team, but Nelson will be expected to claim major minutes. He's too good to keep off the court.

Derek Glasser, Arizona State: Glasser was James Harden's high school teammate, and the two meshed quite well in leading the Sun Devils to the NCAA tournament. But now Glasser is alone and needs to provide even more scoring than the 8.8 points per game of last season. He shot the ball extremely well at 41.3 percent on 3s, averaged 4.8 assists and had nearly a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But he doesn't have Harden or Jeff Pendergraph to pass to anymore. So he may have to do more so that ASU doesn't plunge down the standings.

Brock Motum, Washington State: Former Wazzu coach Tony Bennett found a gem at the Australian Institute of Sport. Motum has long been considered a highly coveted forward. New coach Ken Bone can expect him to step in immediately and make a major contribution. Motum, who's left-handed and 6-9, should be a game-changer for the Cougars.

Abdul Gaddy, Washington: Memphis coveted Gaddy when John Calipari was still coaching. The Tacoma native originally was headed to Arizona, but he opted to play near his home at Washington. Gaddy should give coach Lorenzo Romar plenty of options on the perimeter. He has deep range and can get to the hole. The Huskies have had smaller point guards, but at 6-3, Gaddy is a more traditional playmaker who can give them a different defensive look.

10 Freshmen We Can't Wait To See

Derrick Williams, PF, Arizona: Williams has progressed as much as any prospect on the West Coast in the past year. Because of his impressive frame (think: extreme length) and blossoming skill set, his upside is immense.

Jamil Wilson, PF, Oregon: Wilson is a multiskilled, face-up 4-man. His level of intensity seems to fluctuate, but he can knock down the 3-point shot, handle things well in transition and deliver the nifty assist.

Mike Moser, PF, UCLA: Offensively, Moser is a jump shot away from being an all-conference candidate. Defensively, he has the physical attributes to guard all three perimeter positions.

Victor Rudd, SF, Arizona State: Certainly the biggest mystery of the incoming freshmen. He has oodles of talent, and his game has improved each and every season. Inconsistency is the only thing haunting this gifted wing.

Kyryl Natyazhko

Les Bentley for

Originally from Ukraine, Kyryl Natyazhko was part of the impressive spring haul in Tucson.

Kyryl Natyazhko, C, Arizona: With standout center Jordan Hill's departure to the NBA, Sean Miller will have to depend on Natyazhko sooner rather than later. He has an ideal frame for the 5-spot, and his versatile offensive game (an inside-out threat) should translate into an immediate impact.

Abdul Gaddy, PG, Washington: He may not be a speed demon in transition, but his size, savvy and overall high basketball IQ are leaps and bounds ahead of his peers'. Seeing him play alongside sophomore phenom Isaiah Thomas will be wildly intriguing.

Brock Motum, PF, Washington State: The Australian import put on quite a performance at the under-19 Four Nations tournament in Melbourne. This polished post prospect should be the most college-ready freshman in the conference.

Roberto Nelson, SG, Oregon State: Nelson will bring a skill package that can affect the game on many different levels. He shoots from deep, rebounds and scores a bunch of points in transition.

Solomon Hill, WF, Arizona: Although Hill needs to improve his jump shot, specifically from the 3-point line, the other aspects of his game are of a high level. He is a point-forward type who is a prolific passer and rebounder, and his midrange game is progressing as well.

Tyler Honeycutt, WF, UCLA: He may be headed for a redshirt year if his lower back doesn't heal in time. Nonetheless, this late-blooming wing type has a bevy of upside. He can stroke the 3-point shot and pass with the best of them. And his shot-blocking ability is impressive.

10 Nonconference Games We Can't Wait To See

Cal versus Syracuse, Nov. 19 (Coaches vs. Cancer): Long before the Bears go to Kansas, they'll have a shot to make some noise in New York with one game against Syracuse and then another opposite either Ohio State or North Carolina. Cal needs to at least split at MSG to prove it has staying power for the long haul. It has as many veterans back as Ohio State and more than Syracuse and UNC.

Washington State at Gonzaga, Dec. 2: The Cougs and Zags have developed quite a rivalry in the past few seasons. And this game has turned into a must-get for Wazzu because it doesn't face a daunting nonconference slate. Washington State will go to an Great Alaska Shootout with average opponents and draw a rebuilding LSU in Seattle. So no game could have as much meaning long term as the game in Spokane. If they win it, the Cougs will be taken more seriously.

Kansas at UCLA, Dec. 6: The Bruins will be searching for a marquee win in nonconference play, something that eluded them last season. This game against Kansas will come on the heels of the 76 Classic in Anaheim. If the Bruins can't pick up quality wins in that event, the KU matchup at Pauley Pavilion will hold even more meaning.

Arizona at Oklahoma, Dec. 6: We will know more about the Wildcats after their excursion to Maui. If Arizona can win twice at the Maui Invitational, the Cats won't need a true road win like this one. But if they don't, a game like this will take on even more meaning. OU is in transition without the Griffin brothers and hasn't had a feared home court. A win by Arizona in this Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series matchup would do wonders for its March profile.

Malcolm Lee

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Malcolm Lee and the young Bruins won't catch many breaks thanks to a tough nonconference schedule.

UCLA versus Mississippi State, Dec. 12 (Wooden Classic): The Bruins picked up a challenging opponent for their short trip to Anaheim. Getting Mississippi State early in the season should challenge UCLA's frontcourt more than any game besides KU. This game will come a week after UCLA plays the Jayhawks, so it may be in desperation mode for a quality win. And if Renardo Sidney is eligible, it will be interesting to see how he performs against the program he originally appeared to be leaning toward.

Washington versus Georgetown, Dec. 12 (Wooden Classic): The Huskies don't have a marquee nonconference schedule, which is a bit surprising for a team that should contend for the conference title. Facing Georgetown in the Wooden Classic is the perfect neutral-site game to challenge this squad. The Hoyas could be a threat to win the Big East, and this could end up being a March type of win for the Huskies.

Tennessee at USC, Dec. 19: Kevin O'Neill will get a shot at one of his many former employers, and USC will need a marquee win in nonconference play to stand out. Plucking off Tennessee at home certainly would suffice. The Trojans also will go to Texas and Georgia Tech, but expecting wins in those places may be a reach.

UCLA at Notre Dame, Dec. 19: It's a true road game for the young Bruins, who won't have to deal with a raucous environment in any other game in the nonconference slate. How UCLA handles the Irish may be a good precursor as to how it'll do in the heart of the Pac-10 schedule in late February and early March.

Cal at Kansas, Dec. 22: The Bears are the conference favorite, and that means they must perform well outside the league. Cal will get a shot to make a national name for itself in December when it goes to Allen Fieldhouse. No one should expect the Bears to beat the loaded Jayhawks, but this Christmas week game will offer up a golden chance for them to make themselves known as a national contender.

One potential matchup …

UCLA versus Butler, Nov. 27 (76 Classic): If UCLA beats Portland and if Butler takes out Minnesota, the Bruins will have one of their most challenging games of the season against the Bulldogs. Playing Butler would be a stingy defensive affair. The Bulldogs have been known to keep the games in the 50s or low 60s, and UCLA doesn't mind playing in that range, either.


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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.

ASUArizona State
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.

Patrick Christopher'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.

Oregon StateOregon State
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.

Washington State
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.

2008-09 Standings

Overall record Pac-10 record
Washington* 14-4 26-9
UCLA* 13-5 26-9
Arizona State* 11-7 25-10
California* 11-7 22-11
USC* 9-9 22-13
Arizona* 9-9 21-14
Washington State^ 8-10 17-16
Oregon State% 7-11 18-18
Stanford% 6-12 20-14
Oregon 2-16 8-23
*NCAA tournament

For all the Pac-10 news and notes, check out the conference page.

Top Returning Scorers

Player PPG
Jerome Randle, California 18.3
Nic Wise, Arizona 15.7
Isaiah Thomas, Washington 15.5
Tajuan Porter, Oregon 15.4
Patrick Christopher, California 14.5
Theo Robertson, California 13.1

Top Returning Rebounders

Player RPG
Landry Fields, Stanford 6.6
Joevan Catron, Oregon 6.6
Jamal Boykin, California 6.4
Quincy Pondexter, Washington 5.9
Seth Tarver, Oregon State 5.4
Jamelle Horne, Arizona 5.1

2009-10 Predictions

By Doug Gottlieb

It's never too early for predictions. Doug Gottlieb offers up his thoughts on the upcoming season in the Pac-10:

1. California: 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.

2. Washington: 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.

4. UCLA: 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?

5. USC: 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.

6. Arizona: 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.

7. Oregon: 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.

10. Stanford: 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.

Overheard By One Pac-10 Head Coach

"There are at least six teams that could finish third in the league after Cal and Washington. But you could also make the argument that eight of the 10 teams could end up winning the league. That's how wide-open the Pac-10 could be this season."

Early-season tournament preview (Part I)

Early-season tournament preview (Part II)

Final Shots

• Cal and Washington are consensus top-20 picks. Do any other Pac-10 teams make the cut in our preseason rankings? Andy Katz's Top 25 and Dick Vitale's Top 40.

• The Pac-10 sent six teams to the Big Dance last season, but Joe Lunardi's crystal ball doesn't project nearly as many for March 2010. Summer Bracketology

• Which early-season events are Pac-10 teams taking part in? We have a list of the tournaments that will be scattered around the first two months of the college basketball calendar. Schedule

• How will Sean Miller, Kevin O'Neill and Ken Bone do in their first seasons? For profiles of those three and the other 27 new hires in Division I, check out our New Faces, New Places series.