Sunday, April 12, 2009

2009-10 Preview: Pac 10

Pacific 10 Conference

I've decided that I can't figure out whether the Pac-10 was overrated or underrated this season. More often than not, it's overrated, because of the fact that we are told over and over again how it's underrated due to east coast bias. That was true at one time, but it's not really true in the age of the internet and satellite television. And as with all things, when we are told over and over again that something is underrated, it eventually becomes overrated. But at the same time, I was sure all season that people were sleeping on the Pac-10. The Big East obsession in the media was nauseating, and the media always biases a bit towards ACC basketball as well. You might never know that the computers rated the Pac-10 effectively even with both of those conferences (that's not saying much, of course, since the Big 12 and Big Ten were both as good as well). And so I picked UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State as sleepers in the NCAA Tournament, only to see two of those three teams fall on their faces. So now I'm not sure what to think.

Of course, this is a preview of next season and there's no point in rehashing the past. Let's start with the regular season champs: Washington. They do return three of five starters, but let's be honest: Washington's success this year came because of Jon Brockman. The kid is massive, and nobody could defend him. He was impossible to stop inside five feet, and he was a great rebounder. The other starter that they lose (Justin Dentmon) will be easier to replace. Additional playing time for Venoy Overton should help fill the void of Dentmon, and Isaiah Thomas will only get better. The bigger question marks will, of course, be on the inside, where neither Artem Wallace or Joe Wolfinger have gotten a lot of playing time, and neither has proven to be a solid option. Expect to see Matthew Bryan-Amaning starting as the big man, even though he's a bit undersized, because he clearly has the ability and talent to play 30 minutes per game in the Pac-10. They won't have any instant fixes for their big man problems from their recruiting class, where the best they can muster is fairly unheralded Juco transfer Charles Garcia. That said, their strong back court gets even stronger with star recruit Abdul Gaddy, who is rated by both and as the #2 point guard in this year's high school class. Washington should have the best back court in the Pac-10 next season, and they should compete for another conference title.

UCLA missed their chance at a fourth straight Final Four this season, and the real reason was attitude. They were just wildly inconsistent, and far too satisfied with slow starts and playing from behind. They never seemed to play their best for a full 40 minutes all season long. They will have a lot of turnover this offseason, as Josh Shipp, Darren Collison and Alfred Aboya all graduate. And star Freshman Jrue Holiday is expected to go pro. That means that the players which earned the most minutes last season that will stay with the team are mostly role players: James Keefe, Michael Roll and Nikola Dragovic. None of those three players is going to be a leader of this team. Most likely their best players will be a mixture of some of the young talent that didn't get a lot of playing time this year (like Drew Gordon, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee) and some of the stellar recruiting class coming in (they have five blue chip recruits coming in, all of whom are nationally ranked). UCLA is going to be a good team yet again, but it's hard to gauge exactly how good they'll be because their success will be so dependent on players none of us really saw play very much last season.

Arizona State was a pleasant surprise last season, as Herb Sendek has done a wonderful job bringing in kids that fit his system. Ironically, the one player who didn't seem to fit in the system was the best player: James Harden. He never seemed comfortable being a part of a team - he either played too passively or too aggressively. Sometimes he would sit back and seemingly not take a shot for the first 38 minutes of a game before trying to take over on the last few possessions. He is going to go to the NBA and we'll see if he can find more comfort there. It is possible that he just wasn't challenged enough at the college level, and that he was too good to just be a cog in Sendek's system. The other loss for Arizona State is Jeff Pendergraph, and he will certainly leave a gaping hole down low. Eric Boateng is physically talented, but lacks the basketball skills to play a full 30 minutes per game, but he is really the only big man left on the roster. They do bring in a 6'11" recruit (Ruslen Pateev), but he's not a blue chipper which means that he probably will need a year or two of seasoning before he can play a large role. Arizona State will still have a lot of great guards, and they'll score a lot of points. But they're going to struggle to rebound, and they are going to lack that star go-to guy that they had in James Harden. But they still should make it back to the Tournament.

Arizona was a team in a lot of flux this past season, and they are continuing to undergo massive changes. They suddenly have a big time coach in Sean Miller, but he is going to come in with most of Arizona's key players gone. Jordan Hill, arguably the most dominant player in the Pac-10, is going to the NBA, as is Chase Budinger. Nic Wise and Jamelle Horne are expected to stay, but I don't think either of them are as good as the hype. And the team was already very thin without the awkward situation of an interim coach followed by a new coach, which always kills recruiting. They have managed to sneak in as arguably the last team into the Tournament for the past two season to keep their longest active consecutive Tournament streak alive, but it's probably going to end next season. Still, with Sean Miller at the helm we can be sure that a big recruiting class will be on the way in 2010-11, and Arizona's future is actually brighter than it was a few months ago.

One team that should definitely be improved is Cal, with every single player on the roster returning. The one question mark was Patrick Christopher, but he says that he will return for his Senior season. Look for them to start five Seniors next season, so they'll be very experienced and savvy. USC, on the other hand, is heavily hurt by NBA defections. They only lose two players from their regular rotation to graduation, but DeMar DeRozen and Daniel Hackett are both going pro. Taj Gibson is also testing the NBA process, but I'm going to assume for now that he returns for his Senior season. Still, even with the losses, they do have another excellent recruiting class coming in, highlighted by Renardo Sidney (Rivals: 10, Scout: 2 PF).

Here's how I see the whole conference playing out:

1. Washington - They will be weak on the inside, but with such a dynamic and talented back court they can get away with that. If Abdul Gaddy is as good as the scouting reports say he is, than he and Isaiah Thomas are going to be a dominating duo.
2. California - They don't have the blue chip recruits that some of the other Pac-10 squads bring in, but anytime you can return every single player from a team that earned a 7 seed in the Tournament you know you're in good shape.
3. UCLA - I don't know who is going to start for this team next season, but I will never bet on Ben Howland struggling too badly in the Pac-10. He always finds a way to win.
4. Arizona State - I don't think the loss of Harden will hurt as much as some people think it will. Honestly, Jeff Pendergraph might be the most difficult replacement.
5. USC - They'll be very talented, but very young.
6. Oregon State - They only lose one starter, and bring in a recruiting class rated 22nd by Things are looking up for the Beavers.
7. Oregon - I really don't understand why they were so bad this last season, it just doesn't make sense. Tajuan Porter should be coming back for one more season, and they've got another good recruiting class coming in as well.
8. Arizona - Sean Miller was a great hire, but he just won't have enough kids for a Tournament run next season. I'm sure he'll have them back in 2010-11, though.
9. Stanford - Remember when this team was 10-0 and getting national attention? Well, losing three of the top four players from a team that wasn't all that good anyway is never a good sign.
10. Washington State - It's the end of an era with Tony Bennett leaving along with just about every player from this team that any casual fan had heard of. Taylor Rochestie will be the toughest loss. The Ken Bone hire made sense in that he's got experience recruiting in the Pacific northwest, but only time will tell how successful he is at rebuilding this program.


Anonymous said...

Incredible you have WSU at #10. Two of the top 5 freshamn in the PAC-10 in Klay Thompson and D'angelo Casto, as well as highly touted incoming recruits Reggie Moore and Xavier Thames - and #10 finish? I will bet you anything you want, then they will be #7 at the lowest.

The days of Bennett and 9-minute scoring droughts are over. WSU will retain their nation-leading defense (for the third straight year) and now will be more (still mild) of an offensive threat. I have WSU pinned at #6 and NIT.

Unknown said...

Yeah #6 sounds about right. I dont know about retaining their defense, but they'll definitely score more often. They scored 94 last night, the most in years.

Anonymous said...

you guys are idiots. washington state finishing 10th??? are you kidding me. ucla 3rd?? where have you been. uw and cal are good picks to finish at the top but come on, give the cougs some respect for once