Fear not, it's not the last time we'll ever talk about sports on the West Coast. Quite the contrary. This season marks the end of the Pacific 10 Conference as a pack of 10.
The question heading into this season for the Pac-10 is whether the conference as a whole can get any worse. Conventional wisdom suggests there is nowhere else to go from last season but up. We'll see, but one thing is for sure, even though Oregon State is atop the conference today, they won't be at season's end.
So what's going on in Tucson? Derrick Williams is no longer a secret; he was freshman player-of-the-year and is projected as a high first round draft pick. Even with teams focusing all their defensive schemes on Williams, he is still a lock to lead the team in points and rebounds. After that is anyone's guess--though not for lack of options. Sean Miller runs 10 or more players out on the court every game with nearly every player not named Derrick splitting minutes at their respective positions. However, no one besides Derrick seems poised to step up consistently. There have been flashes of good play from Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, and even MoMo Jones, but each of those players enjoy disappearing acts just as frequently. The team also lacks consistency at the point which has provided for some serious shooting woes at times--especially against 2-3 zones. That being said, the team is far more consistent this year than last, especially on defense. As a result Arizona wins most of the games it should and may find a top three finish in the Pac-10 and a return to the NCAA Tournament. Until then, the recipe for success is: don't play Jimmer Fredette, and don't play against a 2-3 zone.
Have you ever been somewhere and thought: "that just doesn't belong there." You know, like a golf course in the middle of the desert; a baby in a bar; or Sean Hannity at at an Obama rally. The same holds true for basketball at ASU. You see it and think, "that just doesn't make sense." ASU basketball is, and always will be, mired in mediocrity. A glass ceiling will hang perpetually over the success of that program. Sure they have the reigning coach of the year in Herb Sendek, but the Pac-10 was so bad last year he won by default. Besides, anyone that can coax 10+ wins out of an ASU basketball team deserves some recognition. We'll see what the ol' Herbivore can cook up this year without his boy toy Derek Glasser. So far the Scummies have managed to lose every game that posed a marginal challenge. In short, don't look for this year to be the year the JV team in Arizona manages to make a Sweet 16 (or the tournament).
While we need to examine Romar’s ability to coach vs. recruit, the opposite can be said for Mr. Montgomery. This guy is a helluva coach. No one has ever questioned that. He won at Stanford and he won a lot. He was winning with inferior recruiting abilities, limited by academic standards (the reason Jim Harbough should have been national coach of the football year). But there’s just no talent on this Cal team. When your starting point guard is Jorge Gutierrez your team is going to struggle. The dude is a great glue guy, solid energy off the bench, and a thorn in any opponent’s side. He’s just not a starting guard. Harper Kamp is a nice player but that’s about where it stops. I loved last year’s team. But this team has been gutted. Monty is going to need some help beyond being Monty. He needs some talent and that’s going to be his problem to solve.
Dana Altman huddled his players up and said, "Listen, we're getting a new arena this year, so you've got one shining moment guaranteed this season." That moment will surely shine--Uncle Phil would not have it any other way. However, Uncle Phil can't do anything about the talent on the floor (directly)--which is lacking. In his first season Altman will weather the storm of transfers and lack of recruits. Fifth year senior Joevan Catron is averaging upwards of 17 points a game this season, but it gets ugly after that. Maybe Oregon finds lightning in a bottle and surprises someone once or twice this season. Other than that, the story in Eugene is a new basketball arena and the football team that plays down the street. Also, lets take a moment of silence to remember the late, great, McArthur Court.
Okay, so Craig Robinson is President Obama's brother in law. President Obama even came to watch the Beavers lose to George Washington in DC. However, Craig has had as much early season success as his brother in law did in the midterm elections. Craig guided his Beavers to losses against Seattle, Texas Southern, Utah Valley, and Montana. After a promising start to his tenure in Corvallis, Craig Robinson's teams have shown very little improvement, and Oregon State's resume of losses this season tend to indicate disappointment with Mr. Robinson. He will need to turn things around during Pac-10 play otherwise his seat will become increasingly hot. That said, no one enjoys a trip to Gill Collesium in Corvallis and that will not change anytime soon.
On paper, this is a good team. In reality, it’s just good television. Let’s talk dysfunctional. Evidently Ben Howland has alienated all sorts of recruiting ties and hasn’t developed a talent since Darren Collison (but even he plateaued). Tyler Honeycutt is as good as any player in the Pac but Howland can’t get anything out of him. He went off against Kansas but why wouldn’t he? Oh sweet external motivators. At a certain point you need to take a look and realize the power is in the player’s court, Howland needs to get out of his own way and figure out how to win again. The talent is there – Josh Smith, Reeves Nelson, Malcolm Lee – but grind-it-out ball doesn’t work with elite talent anymore. Because of that talent, the Bruins are going to win some ball games, but I ask the question: is there a clock ticking on Big Ben?
He was chastised at Arizona and became the fall guy. But the fact of the matter is that Kevin O’Neil can draw the toughness out of players. For goodness sake he has a Euro, Nikola Vucevic, grabbing rebounds at a 9.6 per game clip. The sanctioned heavy Trojans tout an aggressive frontline which can cause some fits for the smaller, softer Pac. Alex Stephensen is heavy and the aforementioned Vucevic are going to win the Trojans some games. Conversely, it’s still O’Neil ball and they’re going to no-offense themselves out of some games and lose when they shouldn’t (TCU, Bradley, Rider). I believe the Trojan x-factor (not ribbing or flavoring) is Jio Fontan. The touted freshman transfer will give the Trojans a backcourt scoring option, keeping teams honest and not collapsing into the paint. Look, big things aren’t going to come out of Watts this season, but they could just leave you stunned on a couple of Thursdays or Saturdays.
Can a Stanford team be any good if not stocked with a pair of seven foot tall twins? For the better part of a decade no one had to answer that question. Alas, this Johnny Dawkins Stanford team doesn't have one seven footer on the roster, and early indications are that no one on the roster has a brother who is seven feet tall either. However, in true to Stanford tradition, this team does have a shooter; Jeremy Green is shooting better than 46% from behind the arc. After that, the roster is chalk full of freshman who have yet to establish themselves. Stanford might have some success fending off a couple teams to stay out of the cellar, but don't count on much more. This team is still a few more years away, and there is no guarantee they won't still be a few more years away in a few more years.
I like this program. Romar appears to be a classy guy and runs a good show. But at what point do we call a recruiter a recruiter and a coach a coach? He’s planted in a hot bed of hoops – it’s still a tragedy Seattle was raped of its NBA franchise – and UW consistently scoops up this talent subsequently garnering early paper-praise. But then why don’t these teams produce? Why are they just above competitive each year? As for this dance, the Dawgs had pre-season rankings as high as 8th in the country. This has since evaporated and the Huskies find themselves heading into Pac-10 play unranked. To be fair, they’ve lost to some good teams (Kentucky, MSU), but they still don’t seem to win the tough one. It is encouraging to see the emergence of Matthew Bryan-Ammaning and the scoring of Justin Holiday more than double, but the team that is supposed to run away with the Pac-10 may be indicative of just how far this league has fallen.
Sleeper alert. The Cougars and their Ichabod Crane looking coach, Ken Bone, have a sneaky good squad. Reggie Moore and Klay Thomson highlight things but that’s just the surface. Look a little further down the lineup and you’ll see a more-than-formidable big man in DeAngelo Casto and the early front runner for Pac-10 Newcomer-of-the-Year, Faisal Aden. Aden, a JC transfer, is scoring a cool 17 per and has helped lead the Cougs to their solid start despite missing Moore for five games. This is a balanced attack as they can score from all three guard spots and via Casto underneath. Thompson makes for matchup issues as his ability to shoot is the equalizer of equalizers. I still think he’s a bit soft but the addition of Aden changes things. Ultimately, I see the Pullman gang competing down the stretch for the Pac-10 title. Yes, the league’s title.