Pac-10 predictions entering conference play, plus weekly roundup

Dec 28, 2010, 10:00 AM | Updated: Apr 5, 2011, 11:20 am

Prior to Washington’s Exhibition game against Saint Martin’s I did a preseason Pac-10 preview for

This is how I saw the conference back then:

1. Washington
2. Arizona
4. WSU
5. ASU
6. OSU
7. USC
8. Cal
9. Stanford
10. Oregon

I know some of you may be laughing about the fact that I picked the Beavers over the Trojans, but in the last two years OSU has finished 7th then 6th, after losing games early to the likes of Howard and others.

Whether the Beavs can turn around and do this again is anyone’s guess and I imagine that most would be very doubtful at this point. I also rated USC pretty low at 7th, but that was before I actually saw freshmen guards Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones and a much improved senior guard in Donte Smith, not to mention the anticipated addition of Jio Fontan.

Fontan’s impact as an individual player was not a surprise to me, but the chemistry that he has brought to USC was better than I anticipated. At this point I would have to say that everything has worked well for USC and coach Kevin O’Neill, while coach Craig Robinson and the Beavers have had some major problems exposed that weren’t as easily apparent.

Robinson’s Princeton offense is complicated and when he lost three very intelligent and experienced players in Roeland Schaftenaar and the Tarver brothers Seth and Josh, it became much harder to execute that offense. Whether Robinson can bring his new players to “get it”
on top of getting his senior vets to lead the way is a major concern for OSU.

If not this year could be a very bod one, as new stars like red-shirt freshman guard Roberto Nelson, sophomore guard Jared Cunningham, sophomore post Joe Burton and freshman forward Devon Collier try to grasp the system. I thought that seniors in guards Calvin Haynes and Lathen Wallace and posts Omari Johnson and Daniel Deane would be ready to take the reins.

That has not happened and the results have resulted in the Beavers sending the conference RPI down the tubes. Robinson even spoke of playing Nelson at Montana in a close loss, as if it were an exhibition game. He stated to the media that he wanted to give Nelson minutes in order to get him ready for Pac-10 play.

What resulted was a 71-66 loss to a Big Sky team, though the Griz did beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood CA earlier in the year. OSU has a big job ahead of them, but Robinson has performed well in conference play after blundering Novembers and Decembers before, so anything can still happen.

ASU surprised many last season after losing James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph to the NBA. This year after losing a couple of key pieces in senior point guard Derek Glasser and post man Eric Boateng, plus a number of freshmen who transferred out, the thought among many was that coach Herb Sendek could do it again.

So far ASU has not completely collapsed, but a number of new players that were thought to be key contributors have not of yet shown much ability or at least Sendek’s confidence to allow them a chance to show what they can do. One exception has been freshman post Kyle Cain, who has started for ASU in the post.

Pendergraph told that he has been impressed by Cain’s play.

Cain has put up remarkable rebounding numbers at times, collecting double digit boards in four games, though all were against low end competition. Against arguably ASU’s only elite level competition Cain was held to four boards and the Sun Devils were dominated on the boards 39-23.

My thought going into the season was that Sendek would figure out a combination that could defend and rebound, with his knack for creative zones, etc. It hasn’t happened and the fact that the tiny but scrappy Cain is the man in the middle, instead of either of his two seven footers (freshman Jordan Bachynski and sophomore Ruslan Pateev) speaks volumes.

ASU had a problem going into the year with lack of proven post players and it seems as if Sendek has thus far come up snake eyes in his attempts to find the right combination of sets and players. ASU have for the most part won the the games they should, unlike OSU, but they do not look like a team that has the pieces this year.

Sendek will keep trying and the league is such that he will win quite a few games it seems, so the drop won’t be all the way down, but it really looks like there will be a bigger drop than many thought, even though ASU appears to have a nice core of vets and some promising talent. The problem is that the Sun Devils are extremely vulnerable in the middle.

When Pac-10 play comes around, teams have had a chance to scout each other and you can bet that everyone up and down the coast has devised their own way of exploiting ASU’s weak middle. Oregon has played better than anticipated in being able to win games that they should and unlike ASU, they have some quality in the middle to go with some talent on the perimeter.

The Ducks are still very thin though, but unlike the guys 45-minutes north in Corvallis OR, their new coach has devised a system that has allowed them to win some games and gain some confidence. I still think that the Ducks will finish at or near the bottom by March, but at least they have some balance, but the way things play out could eat at their confidence.

UCLA has shown themselves to have some major chemistry issues, but are certainly deep with talent, much deeper than last year’s 14-18 team.
While they have not done as well as I thought they would early, they should still compete for the Pac-10 title or an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona has shown that it has less effective guard play than was thought they should, but the ‘Cats are deep in front court and wing talent and at least have a couple of potentially good guards to work with. ‘Zona should also compete for the Pac-10 title.

Cal and Stanford are both rebuilding, with the Bears in better shape this year. Cal has a couple of decent veteran posts in junior Harper Kamp and senior Markhuri Sanders-Frison, with sophomore Bak Bak having shown some promise. The problems for Cal are on the perimeter where freshmen guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin have really played like true freshmen.

Both Crabbe and Franklin have shot the Bears out of games, with little other options for coach Mike Montgomery to defer to. Little-used junior Nigel Carter has been brought in to shoot some surprise threes, but it is hard to imagine that trick to work too long in conference play. If it can, Cal could possibly make it to the middle of the pack.

There are a lot of ifs for the Bears, who have had to put dynamic junior combo guard Jorge Gutierrez at the point because no one else could handle the job. With Gutierrez running the show results have been mixed as well.

More than likely Cal will find a way to win some games with a coach like Montgomery on the bench, but they show no signs of threatening to repeat as champs. Stanford has also had it’s share of the ups and downs that come from having to play freshmen.

Though frosh post Dwight Powell and frosh guard Aaron Bright of Bellevue WA have shown well on occasion, the Cardinal is going through an unavoidable rebuilding process that will include a finish in the bottom end of the league this season I still believe.

One surprise for some has been the WSU Cougars, but I’m not that shocked. I picked WSU to finish 4th in November and I feel about the same. The Cougs have impressed me, with the improved play of Klay Thompson and the bump provided by JC transfer Faisal Aden. The Cougs are an improved team, both in added weapons and improvements by the guys who have been there.

A lot has happened since November 4th, as teams revealed themselves against both good and not-so-good competition. Everyone else is doing their Pac-10 predictions as the first conference games draw close and I feel that I have the right to make my own re-predictions.

Here is what I see the conference looking like going into the Pac-10 Tournament in March.

1. Washington
2. USC
3. Arizona
4. WSU
6. ASU
7. OSU
8. Cal
9. Stanford
10. Oregon

I feel that the Huskies will stumble along the way early, but end strong and beat out the Trojans, who will start strong and trail off.
I feel that ‘Zona will also stay in the mix for the regular season title up until the last weekend, as UW will win it after losing 4-5 games.

I believe that WSU will win enough games to gain the Pac-10’s fourth NCAA bid, along with UW, ‘SC and ‘Zona. I believe that UCLA will either be the last out or the last in, depending on their performance in the Pac-10 Tourney. After the first five, who will all play in the post-season in my opinion, the rest of the league will be unusually bad.

I don’t see ASU, OSU or anyone else but possibly Cal (based on their non-conference record and being defending champs) playing in the NIT, though one may choose to play in one of those “other” tournaments (CBI and CIT) for some odd reason.

I still feel that this is UW’s year to win the outright title again, but it will be after a close race with both ‘SC and ‘Zona leading the way at times and WSU and UCLA knocking on the door. Even if Washington shocks many and beats USC and UCLA to start the season, I still think that this year is not going to be a table run of any kind for the Dawgs.

There is just too many good teams in the top-end of the Pac-10 and I believe that they will beat UW a handful of times. ‘SC could easily come into Seattle and beat the Dawgs and this could also be the year that UCLA puts enough of a priority behind their usual embarrassment at Hec-Ed to surprise the Dawgs.

‘Zona could easily sweep UW this season as well and WSU could get a win in either Pullman or Seattle. Predictions are tough and I’m not sure how it is going to happen, but I see this year as one where either of those top-5 teams could jump up and win this thing.

Since I have to pick an order, these are my gut feelings, but other than those five finishing at the top and the second five finishing at the bottom a lot is going to come down to luck and health this year. I have not seen a case of haves and have-nots so evenly divided as long as I can remember, going back to the late sixties.

There have been times when one, two or three teams looked dominant and year’s when there were obviously a team or two that were clearly inferior, but the way it looks to me there are 5 teams at the top that, neither of which is clearly superior and five below them that all could end up at 10th.

I know that sounds like a cop out, but if I’m right about this, it will definitely be an exciting year.

Pac-10 Round Up

The polls came out again Monday and the Pac-10 was again left out of the top-25. Washington was the biggest vote getting in the “Others receiving votes” category in both the AP and the Coaches polls. UW was the 30th highest vote getter in the AP and 29th in the Coaches poll.

Arizona was 33rd in the AP voting and 42nd by the Coaches. Washington State was 44th in the AP and 38th in the Coaches poll. USC got one vote, making them tied for 35th in the AP voting.

Rivals’ Arizona site,, did it’s preseason predictions post non-conference play on Sunday and all four staff members polled picked Washington to win it. Site publisher Josh Gershon picked his ‘Cats to finish 2nd, but felt that UW just had too much “depth and athleticism”.

“I think it’s close at the top, as Washington is great at home but struggles on the road, where its physical defense and at times reckless offense doesn’t get the same officiating advantage. However, the depth and athleticism from Washington still makes the Huskies the team to beat in the Pac-10.”

I agree with Josh, who like me picked the Cougs at third, but took ‘SC to finish fifth with the Bruins fourth. Only the site’s Jason Nimrichter, who picked ASU at fifth, had any team other than my top-5 at the top of the league.

Don Ruiz of the Morning News Tribune on Monday did not offer any predictions in his column which updated what the Pac-10 media predicted going into the year. Ruiz did offer that the race could come down to the two state teams UW and WSU, which to me is about as likely to happen as not, but is certainly a possibility.

This year the Washington trip is going to be a tough one for Pac-10 traveling teams. Ruiz also offered intelligent statistical high and low lights thus far this year for all ten teams that tried to explain what fans may continue to see in conference play.

Percy Allen of The Seattle Times did his power rankings Monday and like me he is very impressed with USC, who he picked at the top, followed by UW. His top 5 also included the usual suspects in WSU, ‘Zona and UCLA in that order.

ESPN finally put a Pac-10 team in their top-25 power rankings, choosing UW 25th on Monday.

ESPN also stated in the “Weekly Watch” that the Dawgs have a good chance of coming home from LA this weekend with a sweep.

“The Huskies should bring their cameras and sneak in a stop at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Why? Washington is touring Los Angeles this week, playing at USC on Wednesday before going to Pauley Pavilion for this tough date with UCLA on Friday. The Huskies are better than their
8-3 record belies — they’re the No. 5-ranked team in adjusted efficiency to date according to Pomeroy — so don’t be surprised if they sweep this L.A. tour with plenty of touristy energy to spare.?

I’m not so sure about that and feel that Husky fans should be buoyantly happy with a split in LA this weekend.

Husky Huddle

Coach Lorenzo Romar talked at length about the health status of Venoy Overton and Justin Holiday, the trip to Los Angeles and other Pac-10 issues when he met with the media on Monday. made a podcast of the audio of Romar’s comments.

The Dawgs are the nations top Sleeper, according to a feature in by Luke Winn.

“Washington is UConn’s polar opposite: a team that has woefully underperformed in the win-loss column thus far, but looks fantastic statistically.”

Winn points out that the Dawgs, according to the Pomeroy system of statistical analysis is in the top-10 in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and Adjusted Scoring Margin or how many points a team scores and allows compared to its opponents’ season averages.

The cumulative total of those three rankings is the highest in the nation, but that is not going to get a win this weekend in LA. Only heart will get that done and UW has shown a slight lack of that hard to quantify statistical component under the lights this year. it will be a very good sign if they show enough to of it to get a win this weekend in my opinion.

According to Doug Brodess of Bleacher Report on Monday UW will be dominant in Pac-10.

“While I am not predicting that Washington will run the Pac-10 table and go undefeated, I think it is possible that they will start out front and stay out front from the beginning to the end.”

Starting out in front will require a sweep in LA more than likely and I guess Brodess feels that is going to happen, but at least understands the importance of this weekend in deciding who take the crown.

“These first two (UW) games in Southern California will set the stage for what happens from there in Pac-10 play.”

Brodness also chose senior guard Justin Holiday as one of his top-20 small forwards in the nation this year.

Junior guard Isaiah Thomas was nominated for the Cousy Award given to the nation’s top point guard on Tuesday, according to
Reggie Moore of WSU was the only other Pac-10 player chosen.

Thomas was also the subject of a profile feature on on Friday by Gregg Bell.

When discussing the UW team in the piece, Bell was optimistic that UW’s problems that were showcased against Texas A+M have been addressed.

“With Thomas now emerging into the follow-me role, and N’Diaye and Bryan-Amaning fixing rebounding issues, the Huskies are where they want to be heading into the Pac-10 season. They are certainly ahead of where they were at the start of the month, when Thomas stole the ball but got his harried shot blocked at the buzzer in a one-point loss at Texas A&M.”

Sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy has “blossomed into one of Pac-10’s best guards” according to Percy Allen of The Seattle Times.

Allen points out that Gaddy’s stats tell the story of his hard work in the off-season.

“He has dramatically improved his scoring average (10.2 points from 3.9), assists (4.1 from 2.3) and rebounds (2.2 from 1.4), while shaving his turnovers average from 1.7 to 1.3. Off season shooting drills with Washington’s three-point record-holder, Ryan Appleby, helped Gaddy develop his touch from the field (57.7 percent, up from 41.7), on three-pointers (48 to 15) and free throws (88.9 to 56.4).”

Former Dawg Adrian Oliver scored 42 points for San Jose State against Tacoma’s University of Puget Sound. For this he was given a mention in a post by ESPN Blogger Diamond Leung.

Oliver is the nations 3rd leading scorer this season so far, but could have been a large factor for UW in the Pac-10 had he stayed in Seattle back in the late fall of 2007. Scoring 42 points against UPS proves that he is a great scorer, but doing it in the NCAA tournament and in a major conference would have proven so much more.

Hopefully Oliver is happy though at home in San Jose and in being the star of the show, as opposed to having to share the spotlight at Washington with the likes of Jon Brockman, Justin Dentmon, Quincy Pondexter and Thomas, all of whom were chosen as All Pac-10 players.

On paper I believe that Oliver would have helped the Dawgs, but sometimes chemistry suffers when one guy feels that he needs more shots, etc.

WSU Notes

The Cougs had a chance to show what they can do on the national stage at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu HI over the Christmas Holiday and really did well. They opened things up on Wednesday with a resounding 83-57 win over Mississippi State.

Junior guard Klay Thompson was machine-like in his well rounded play against a Bulldog team that had suspended controversial star forward Renardo Sidney. Thompson scored 28 points to lead WSU, followed by junior guard Faisal Aden with 20. The Cougs trailed 40-38 at the half, but blew out MSU 44-17 in the 2nd half.

On Thursday WSU were able to beat then 15th ranked Baylor 77-71. This was a game in which WSU started off strong and had to hold back a rally to get the win, but did so in impressive fashion.

Thompson again led the Cougs with 20 points, but WSU got balanced scoring with 13 from Aden and 12 a piece from junior post DeAngelo Casto, sophomore guard Reggie Moore and soph post Brock Motum.

Moore said about the win over Baylor, “Hopefully it kind of puts us on the map”.

It really should, when Selection Sunday comes around. WSU wins over Gonzaga, MSU and Baylor will look pretty good in March in my opinion.

The Cougs could have really taken the national spotlight with a win over Butler in the tourney championship game on Saturday, but those Bulldogs were relentless in the 2nd half and turned a close one into an 84-68 drubbing.

Thompson had another great game with 31 points to lead all scorers, but no other Coug scored in double figures as Butler kept the everyone else in Crimson bottled up, most noticeably Aden who was 3-9 from the field for 8 points total.

The Cougs next travel to Westwood CA to meet UCLA at 8 p.m. (PST) on Wednesday.

‘Zona Notes

Josh Gershon of talked about his “Five keys to a Pac-10 title” for the ‘Cats. Gershon listed “Consistent Point Guard Play”, “Offense Against The Zone”, “Defense”, “Shooting Guard Production” and “The Emergence of a Second Scorer” as his five keys. That sounds like a lot and I agree that ‘Zona has a lot of ifs going into Pac-10 play.

That said, on paper, this UA team is loaded with talent, so all of the things that Gershon named are possible and ‘Zona is definitely a contender, if not the favorite depending on how well they rise up to focus on these areas of concern.

The ‘Cats finished off their non-conference schedule on Wednesday with an 82-56 tune-up beat-down of Robert Morris. Sophomore post Derrick Williams again led all scorers with 17 points, but was joined this time by JC transfer junior post Jesse Perry with 16 and junior guard Kyle Fogg with 11.

Perry started the game after great play of late and could be the best answer for ‘Zona in finding a good compliment inside for Williams.
Perry was 4-8 from the free throw line and could have easily been the ‘Cats top scorer if he shot better there.

Arizona will next face Oregon in Eugene OR at 8 p.m. (PST) on Thursday.

ASU Notes

The Sun Devils finished off their non-conference slate by beating a couple of teams that they should have in Long Beach State on Tuesday
72-55 and North Carolina A&T on Thursday 56-50, both in Tempe, Ariz.
Neither were tremendously encouraging games for ASU.

Senior guard Ty Abbott led the way against LBSU with 15 points, followed by freshman post Kyle Cain with 12 and sophomore guard Trent Lockett with 10. ASU won the turnover battle 10-19 and the steal battle 10-5 in what really determined an otherwise close game.

The Sun Devils play good defense and that will win them some Pac-10 games, but not against teams with good front lines, as they are very thin at best up front.

Against NCAT ASU played down to an even lower level opponent, as only an 8-11 night at the free throw line compared to 3-6 from NCAT was the difference in the game. Senior forward Rihards Kuksiks led the Sun Devils with 15 points followed by Lockett with 12.

ASU will face another Pac-10 team with big questions, as they travel to Corvallis OR to meet the Beavers on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (PST).

Oregon Notes

The Ducks showed why many feel that they will be exposed in Pac-10 play and end up in the basement this season, as they lost to Idaho in Eugene OR on Tuesday 69-65.

Par usual senior post Joevan Catron led the way for the Ducks with 18 points, followed by sophomore wing E.J. Singler with 11 and junior guard Malcolm Armstead with 10. The Ducks impressed some early in the year with wins over very bad teams and to their credit showed some fight in a close loss to Missouri.

Oregon looked confident as well in three home wins over weak opponents after the Mizzaou game, but a convincing loss to Virginia on the road took some wind out of their sails and now the Ducks will need to dig deep to find the courage to fight hard against a ‘Zona team with a lot to prove Thursday at 7 p.m. (PST) in Eugene.

Stanford Notes

The Cardinal finished off its Big-12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on a sour note with a 79-68 road loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater OK on Tuesday. Stanford was led in scoring by junior post Josh Owens with 21 points and 10 boards. Junior guard Jeremy Green, who usually leads the Cardinal followed Owens with 17.

Freshman guard Aaron Bright from Bellevue WA scored 15 off the bench followed by frosh post Dwight Powell with 10.

Stanford will have some good games this year, as they like Cal are well coached and have some veterans in Owens and Green, but they are too dependent on green frosh to play big roles to get into the mix for post-season considerations in my opinion.

Stanford plays one more non-conference game in their next match-up against Yale Tuesday in Palo Alto CA at 7 p.m. (PST).

Cal Notes

The Bears were beaten soundly by Kansas at home in the last game ever for the Big-12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series 78-63 at home in Berkeley CA on Wednesday. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez led the Bears with 15 points, followed by freshman guard Allen Crabbe with 11 and senior post Markhuri Sanders-Frison with 10.

Cal was no match at home for Kansas, though the Jayhawks struggled at home against USC and UCLA. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether that means that Cal is that inferior to the Trojans and Bruins, but if I had to make an educated guess I would say they will be this season.

Cal has one more tune-up before Pac-10 play when they take on Hartford at home in Berkeley on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (PST)

USC Notes

USC traveled to Tennessee and got a 65-64 win over the Vols on Tuesday. Freshman guard Maurice Jones led the way with 15 points, followed by Senior post Alex Stepheson and junior guard Jio Fontan with 13 a piece. Freshman guard Bryce Jones also kicked in 11.

With wins over Texas and Tennessee and a close road loss to Kansas, USC has an impressive resume going into Pac-10 play. The Trojans did nothing to hurt that rep by beating a solid Lehigh team 76-49 on Thursday in Los Angeles CA.

This time Fontan showed his stuff in leading ‘SC with 21 points, followed by junior forward Nikola Vucevic with 16, senior guard Donte Smith with 13 and Stepheson with 11.

USC next host Washington at 7:30 p.m. (PST) on Wednesday.

UCLA Notes

The Bruins closed out their non-conference slate with two weak performances this past week. On Tuesday they beat Montana State at home in Westwood CA 75-59, but didn’t look all that great in doing so.
A win is a win though, as junior guard Malcolm Lee led UCLA with 18 points, followed by sophomore post Reeves Nelson with 15.

The Bruin let a big lead evaporate early in the second half against the Bobcats. If that wasn’t unnerving enough for UCLA fans who have sky high expectations of their Bruins, on Thursday they were embarrassed by UC-Irvine who they barely beat 74-73 in Westwood at historic Pauley Pavilion.

Lee and junior guard Lazeric Jones led the Bruins with 20 points a piece, followed by freshman post Josh Smith of Kent WA with 14. The Anteaters stayed in the game because of UCLA’s 52% foul shooting on 23 attempts and 17 turnovers.

According to Scout former Bruin guard Matt Carlino will transfer to BYU. Carlino is the 4th Bruin to transfer to the MWC in the last three years. That list also includes UNLV’s Chase Stanback and Mike Moser, as well as New Mexico’s Drew Gordon.

UCLA next host WSU on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (PST).

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Pac-10 predictions entering conference play, plus weekly roundup