Saturday, April 07, 2007

2007-08 Preview: Pac 10

Pacific 10 Conference

UCLA ran away with the Pac-10 yet again in 2007, and was arguably the best team in the country before they fell on their face in the Final Four. But the story in the Pac-10 next year might just be USC and its polarizing recruit, OJ Mayo. I'll have a longer post on him after the preseason previews are done, but the attention for Mayo is really unprecedented. There have been high school recruits with more overall hype (Oden and Lebron come to mind), but no one who comes out of high school already hated by millions of basketball fans. After the story broke about how he chose USC, Mayo was immediately annointed the new "what is wrong with basketball," and Youtube is filled with videos both glorifying and bashing him. Again, I'll explain this more later in a longer article, but in general I think that USC is a bad decision for Mayo. He should have learned from this past year that Oden marketed himself just fine from Columbus, Ohio. And he needs a strong coach who can keep him in line, someone who he can't undercut with his behavior. Tim Floyd doesn't strike me as someone in the Pitino/Calhoun/Knight mold of being able to control any player who comes before him.

So, there is a very real possibility that USC's recruiting class blows up in its face. In actuality, it's not that great of a class outside of Mayo. Davon Jefferson is the only other blue-chipper. Almost nobody from this past year's team graduates, but Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young are expected to go pro a year early. That also means that the only remaining key rising-Seniors will be gone, making almost the entire Trojans rotation freshmen and sophomores. They will be immature and are bound to lose a bunch of close games. There is a lot of hype about USC being a Top 5 team next year, but I don't buy it. If they can get Pruitt and Young to stay then I'll buy this team as the second best team in the Pac-10, which could possibly mean a seed as high as a #2. But without those two players they lose not only a ton of scoring but also their experience and leadership. I see this team actually underperforming last year's team.

Moving to a team that we know will be good: UCLA. Of course, just how great they will be depends on their NBA defections. They had no Seniors on last year's team, but Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison are both expected to go pro. Josh Shipp also is expected to test the waters, but for now I'll assume he stays for another year. Either way, there are still a lot of excellent players that will return for this team: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Lorenzo Mata and others. And they have a recruiting class that both and have as a Top 15 class. The key player will be Kevin Love, a 6'9" center already being called the next Bill Walton.

The surprise in the Pac-10 this past year was obviously Washington State, a team that amazingly returns almost every key player from last year's team. As usual they have a mediocre recruiting class, but who needs new recruits when you have Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Daven Harmeling. On the other hand, a team that underperformed but should be better on the back of its recruits will be Arizona. They lose two starters to graduation, and are expected to lose a third (Marcus Williams) to the NBA. But Chase Budinger is expected to return for another year, and as usual Lute Olsen has a powerful recruiting class (Rivals: 4th overall, Scout: 8th).

Two other teams that should contend for the Pac-10 title will be Oregon and Washington. Oregon loses star Aaron Brooks, but returns everyone else. They should have a very balanced offensive attack, and a fairly experienced team by Pac-10 standards. Washington, meanwhile, is expected to lose only Spencer Hawes to the NBA. They will still have Jon Brockman as a force on the inside, and Ryan Appleby remains a good shooter. The biggest reason the Huskies underperformanced this past year was youth/inexperience (which should be helped by another year in the NCAA) and the lack of an explosive scorer off the dribble. They have some potential candidates for that roll already on the bench, and they also bring in their typically strong recruiting class. The key will probably be the two point guards, Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton. If Isaiah can play as well as Isiah once did for Indiana, the Huskies will be an outstanding team. Appleby is better suited to play the 2, and Washington's offense struggled when he was the primary ballhandler. One of these recruits should be able to shoulder the load when Justin Dentmon takes a rest. Also, the offense should be a little bit more opened up since they won't have their twin towers clogging up the lanes anymore.

1. UCLA - Just way too much talent here. If Kevin Love is as good as advertised, and Josh Shipp stays for another year, this is a true National Championship contender.
2. Arizona - Remember that this was a better team than their record this past season. They will likely lose three starters, but Chase Budinger is just scratching the surface of how good he might become. And Lute Olsen will, as always, have a great array of athletic talent.
3. Washington State - How can you move this team down when they basically return the whole team? It's remarkable looking at their old recruiting classes - none of these guys were bluechippers. Somehow they put together something special, and I expect them to contend for a top NCAA seed yet again.
4. USC - I put them this low because I assume that Pruitt and Young will both jump ship. If that's the case this team will be just too immature to not blow a lot of winnable games. USC's biggest strength this past year was their toughness and maturity in winning close games. They won't have that next year, even if OJ Mayo does become an elite player.
5. Washington - Should be an elite team if they can find a slashing scorer. With all of the players on their bench and in their recruiting classes, I can't believe they won't find one or two.
6. Stanford - A good enough team this past year to contend for an at-large bid, although they definitely didn't deserve one over Syracuse. Either way, they only had one Senior getting anything more than garbage minutes, and aren't expected to lose anyone to the NBA. The Lopez brothers will be a real force for anyone to try to deal with.
7. Oregon - A team that will be continue to be really good, even though they will miss Brooks. I expect the Pac-10 to be really deep next year, so even though I have Oregon as only the 7th best team, I still expect them to qualify for another Tournament.
8. California - A decent team that simply is going to be stuck in a really good conference. The only way they move up further in these standings is if Ryan Anderson takes his game to the next level.
9. Arizona State - Should start to see the results of the good Herb Sendek hire. They return most of their best players, and also bring in an outstanding recruiting class (by Sun Devils standards) that is ranked in the Top 25 in the nation by both and
10. Oregon State - This team might actually be better than they were last year, but the Pac-10 is just going to be too good for a team like this to finish high enough in the standings for a postseason bid.

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