Everybody is projecting the Pac-10 to be down this year, and with good reason. There are three new coaches taking over teams that sustained heavy losses from last year (Arizona, USC and WSU), the traditional power of the conference (UCLA) lost a ton of talent and will be relying on a bunch of guys who have accomplished nothing or have yet to set foot on a college court, last year's champion lost one of the most decorated players in the history of its program (Washington), another team lost the third pick in the draft who carried them for the last two seasons (Arizona State) and a team which wasn't very good to begin with lost a huge amount of it's production (Stanford). The losses from last season aren't any bigger than they have been the previous couple of seasons for the Pac-10, but after pumping the NBA with talent for several years this is likely the year that the conference really feels it. Add to that the fact that there isn't a headlining class of freshmen coming into the conference as in years past and it may be the worst year in recent memory for the Conference of Champions. The top of the conference seems solid, but the middle and bottom are pretty much up for grabs.
Much more after the jump.
(Note: for the purposes of this column, a "starter" is a player who was in his team's top 5 in terms of minutes played)
'09: 26-9, 14-4, 1st. Postseason: NCAA 2nd Round
Key Losses: Jon Brockman, Justin Dentmon
Returning Starters: Quincy Pondexter, Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton
New Players: Abdul Gaddy, Clarence Trent, C.J. Wilcox
The Huskies come into this season with some question marks in the frontcourt, but their 1-2-3 of Gaddy/Overton-Thomas-Pondexter is as good as any in the nation. If a player (Elston Turner, I'm looking at you) can emerge as a consistent 3 point threat, or if Isaiah Thomas improves his percentage to a respectable number, this team should have no problem repeating as conference champions.
'09: 22-11, 11-7, 3rd. Postseason: NCAA 1st Round
Key Losses: None
Returning Starters: Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson, Harper Kamp, Jamal Boykin
New Players: Bak Bak, Markhuri Sanders-Frison, Brandon Smith
Cal is being tabbed by most as the preseason favorite because they return everybody from a good team last year. As is the case with Washington, they have some of the best guards in the country. The difference between Cal and Washington is that Cal is much more dependent on the three pointer, and while that can make them unbeatable when they're hitting it, they also suffer from dry spells occasionally which causes them to drop games to inferior opponents (as evidenced by them being swept by Oregon State). That inconsistency will ultimately cost them the Pac-10 title.
'09: 26-9, 13-5, 2nd. Postseason: NCAA 2nd Round
Key Losses: Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Alfred Aboya, Jrue Holiday
Returning Starters: Nikola Dragovic
New Players: Tyler Honeycutt, Brendan Lane, Mike Moser, Reeves Neslon, Anthony Stover
UCLA seems to be the tallest midget of the Pac-10, mostly for the simple fact that nobody in their right mind would ever bet against Ben Howland. Losing their four best players from last year will test Howland's ability to run a team with a bunch of young talent. Whether or not these Baby Bruins are able to put the ball into the basket is going to be a huge question, but have no concerns about their defense. It's Howland's hallmark and will be enough alone to keep them competitive even if the offense isn't clicking. After they nearly lost their exhibition to Concordia, questions abound, but while they may struggle early on one has to believe that they'll be rounding into form come Pac-10 play.
'09: 8-23, 2-16, 10th. Postseason: None
Key Losses: Churchill Odea
Returning Starters: Tajuan Porter, Michael Dunigan, Joevon Catron, LeKendrick Longmire, Garrett Sim
New Players: Malcolm Armstead, Jeremy Jacob, E.J. Singler, Jamil Wilson
Looking at his history, Ernie Kent puts his best seasons together when his back is against the wall. He bungles his way to the hot seat, then pulls out a tournament run which buys him a few more years to repeat the pattern. I'm going with history. Oregon brings an excellent recruiting class in for the second straight year, and doesn't sustain much loss from last year. Yes, they were terrible last year, but they have a ton of talent on their roster. If Sim and Dunigan take significant steps between their freshmen and sophomore campaigns (big "ifs" given they're coached by Ernie Kent) and support the older guys on the roster, the Ducks could do some damage in a Pac-10 full of teams whose of lesser talent.
'09: 21-14, 9-9, 5th. Postseason: NCAA Sweet Sixteen
Key Losses: Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger
Returning Starters: Kyle Fogg, Jamelle Horne, Nic Wise
New Players: Solomon Hill, Lamont Jones, Kyryl Natyazkho, Kevin Parrom, Derrick Williams
With the Lute Olson saga in the rearview mirror, the Sean Miller era has begun in Arizona. The losses of Hill and Budinger will undoubtedly hurt, but Nic Wise returning for his senior campaign was a huge blessing for this team. Miller also gave himself help by rallying to rebuild a recruiting class which looked bleak prior to his arrival. Miller is one of the best young coaches in America, and while the talent level isn't what Arizona is used to, there are some playmakers on this team. Kyle Fogg had an excellent freshman campaign, Jamelle Horne is as good an athlete as there is, and Zane Johnson is one of the best shooters in the conference. If the freshmen play to their expectations it might be enough for Arizona to keep its NCAA streak alive.
6. Oregon State
'09: 18-18, 7-11, 8th. Postseason: CBI Champions
Key Losses: Ricky Claitt
Returning Starters: Calvin Haynes, Roeland Schaftenaar, Daniel Deane, Seth Tarver
New Players: Angus Brandt, Joe Burton, Jared Cunningham, Roberto Nelson, Rhys Murphy
Much is being made about OSU's improvement from 18 losses to CBI championship and the fact that they're returning just about everyone. However, most of the players coming back aren't that good. OSU was able to win some games last year because they play a style unfamiliar to the Pac-10 and some teams had trouble adjusting to it. But when OSU was faced with a much more talented opponent, such as UW and UCLA last year, OSU was lucky to come within 20 points, a feat which they accomplished exactly once, when UW beat them by just 19. The Pac-10 will be more adept at busting their halfcourt 1-3-1 press this coming year, and once you do that it's a license to pile on the points, which forces OSU to get out of it, which makes them a much worse basketball team. OSU will be better, but they're not going to be competing with the cream of the conference for at least another season or two.
7. Washington State
'09: 17-16, 8-10. Postseason: NIT
Key Losses: Taylor Rochestie, Aron Baynes, Caleb Forrest, Daven Harmeling
Returning Starters: Klay Thompson, Nikola Koprivica
New Players: Steven Bjornstad, Anthony Brown, Reggie Moore, Brock Motum, Xavier Thames
Recruiting at Washington State has been very good the last two classes, but the couple of years before that? Not so much. Evidence: One senior and one junior (who doesn't play) on WSU's roster. It's hard to have much faith in a team built entirely of sophomores and freshmen. DeAngelo Casto is a manchild, and Klay Thompson is one of the best players in the conference, but teams will undoubtedly be keying on him and there are no proven players on the roster who have shown that they will be able to take the pressure off of him. In addition, the transition from Bennett Ball to Ken Bone might be trying with this team's limited depth. Under the Bennetts players could play long minutes due to the slow pace, but if Bone wants to pick up the tempo this team might be gassed by midseason.
8. Arizona State
'09: 25-10, 11-7, 4th. Postseason: NCAA 2nd Round
Key Losses: James Harden, Jeff Pendergraph
Returning Starters: Derek Glasser, Rihards Kuksiks, Ty Abbott
New Players: Trent Lockett, Ruslan Pateev, Victor Rudd, Brandon Thompson, Demetrius Walker
The loss of Harden and Pendergraph is huge. It's not just that they were the best players on the team, it's that the team was completely lost without them. There is not a single player on the roster who can create his own shot consistently, just a bunch of guys who could knock down shots after Harden and Pendergraph drew the defense. A lot of people are touting Eric Boateng to be a big contributor this year, but it's hard to see him doing enough to make this team a competitor. Life after Harden is going to be tough for the Sun Devils.
'09: 22-13, 9-9, 6th. Postseason: NCAA 2nd Round
Key Losses: Taj Gibson, Daniel Hackett, DeMar DeRozan, Keith Wilkinson
Returning Starters: Dwight Lewis
New Players: Evan Smith
The mass exodus of USC's talent can only mean one thing: It's Lil' Romeo time at USC. In all seriousness though, Tim Floyd left USC in shambles. The junior class and freshman phenom DeMar DeRozan bolted, and as a sign of a sinking ship, Daniel Hackett didn't even leave for the NBA - he left to play in Italy. When Floyd resigned the recruiting class fell apart as well, and new coach Kevin O'Neil was not able to salvage it. Dwight Lewis comes back as one of few proven players, though he was one of the most overrated players in the conference last year, putting up the numbers he did simply because he shot the ball every time he touched it. Leonard Washington is a good player, but he's not a player to put the team on his back the entire season. Alex Stepheson could turn out to be an All Conference caliber player but there's not enough depth on this team to compete in the Pac-10 this year.
'09: 20-14, 6-12 9th. Postseason: CBI
Key Losses: Anthony Goods, Lawrence Hill, Mitch Johnson,
Returning Starters: Landry Fields, Josh Owens
New Players: Andy Brown, Gabriel Harris, Andrew Zimmerman
Stanford lost most of their talent from last year's team, which wasn't that great to begin with. Not a great combination. The team is going to rely heavily on Landry Fields to carry the load, and he was going to be aided by Jeremy Green and Josh Owens, however Green has been suspended and Owens injured. Without Green they have just 7 players on scholarship. This is going to be a long season for coach Johnny Dawkins, and this team may be playing for moral victories.
Nic Wise, Arizona
Patrick Christopher, Cal
Jerome Randle, Cal
Michael Dunigan, Oregon
Roeland Schaftenaar, OSU
Landry Fields, Stanford
Dwight Lewis, USC
Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Quincy Pondexter, Washington
Klay Thompson, WSU
Theo Robertson, Cal
Tajuan Porter, Oregon
Nikola Dragovic, UCLA
Malcolm Lee, UCLA
DeAngelo Casto, WSU
Solomon Hill, Arizona
Trent Lockett, ASU
Jamil Wilson, Oregon
Reeves Nelson, UCLA
Abdul Gaddy, Washington
Reggie Moore, WSU
Jorge Gutierrez, Cal
Seth Tarver, OSU
Alex Stepheson, USC
Venoy Overton, Washington
DeAngelo Casto, WSU
Player of the Year: Jerome Randle, Cal
Freshman of the Year: Abdul Gaddy, Washington
Defensive Player of the Year: Venoy Overton, Washington
Most Improved Player of the Year: Michael Dunigan, Oregon
Coach of the Year: Lorenzo Romar, Washington