Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Previewing the Madness: The Pac-10

The Pac-10 is down this season, there really isn't a question about that.

But just because the league is down doesn't mean there hasn't been exciting, competitive basketball.

Washington was the runaway favorite in the preseason, but they really struggled down the stretch of the season, losing three of their last five games and falling to third in the conference standings. Arizona had control late in the season, but an ugly 0-2 road trip to the LA schools forced them into a situation where they had to sweep the final weekend to win the regular season title. UCLA was the surprise team. For all the flack they have gotten the last couple of years, the Bruins finished all alone in second place in the Pac-10 tournament.

Now, with teams like Washington State, USC, and Cal playing some of their best basketball of the season, don't be surprised when you see some upsets in this tournament. It may not have the number of tournament teams that the Big East has, but that should do nothing to diminish the entertainment value, to say nothing of the competition on the bubble for the teams sitting in 3rd-6th.

Where: Staples Center, LA

When: March 9th-12th

Final: March 12th, 6:00 pm, ESPN

Favorite: Arizona Wildcats

Right now, Arizona is the best team in this conference. Derrick Williams is not just the best player in the Pac-10, he is one of the best in the country and will likely be a first team all-american when things are all said and done. One of Arizona's bigger problems is that they haven't had a consistent second option step up alongside Williams. There is talent there -- Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Jordin Mayes, Jesse Perry -- but that talent is inexperienced. Jamelle Horne and Kyle Fogg provide some of that leadership, but it gets to the biggest problem for the Wildcats -- point guard play. Momo Jones has had some big games this season, but he is inconsistent and is not enough of a playmaker.

  • Other Contenders: Washington and UCLA are the two other teams that should be considered favorites to win this thing. The Huskies are, easily, the most talented team in the conference. But they have been completely out of whack down the stretch. Throw in Veony Overton's suspension and Justin Holiday's concussion on top of Abdul Gaddy's knee injury, its tough to know what to expect out of this team. UCLA has played much better late in the season, as they are finally starting to play defense like a Ben Howland team. With guys like Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Joshua Smith, and Malcolm Lee on the roster, there is plenty of talent for the Bruins. Will they play like it?
Sleeper: Washington State Cougars

I like Wazzu this season. Klay Thompson is as good of a shooter and scorer as there is in the country. With Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore playing alongside him in the back court, the Cougars can match up with anyone in the conference. Inside, DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers are both above-average Pac-10 players. Better news? They play Washington in the first round, a team they swept this season. When the Cougar's shots are dropping, they are a tough team to beat.

  • Deeper Sleepers: The Cal Bears has one of the most fun players in the conference to watch in Jorge Gutierrez, but with the emergence of Allen Crabbe late in the season as a secondary scorer on the perimeter, the Bears have become a threat to pull an upset. Also keep an eye on USC. This team has a number of impressive wins this season, and while they also have some questionable losses, those losses came before Jio Fontan was eligible. Nikola Vucevic is the best low-post scorer in the conference.
Players to Watch:
  • Jorge Gutierrez, Cal: Gutierrez plays as intense as anyone in the Pac-10. He's a terrific defender that has really developed his offensive game this season. One of the benefits of the Bears winning the Pac-10 Tournament will be that the rest of the country gets a chance to see Gutierrez play. He's worth it.
  • Klay Thompson, Washington State: Like I said, Thompson is one of the best scorers in the country. He led the Pac-10 in scoring at 21.4 ppg and is a pleasure to watch work off the ball.
  • Nikola Vucevic, USC: As anyone ever averaged 17.7 ppg and 10.3 rpg and been more anonymous on a national level than Vucevic?

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