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Pac-10 Basketball Outlook

The Pac-10 season tips off tomorrow with four games. The Oregon schools are visiting the Arizona schools this week, and the Bay Area schools are visiting the LA schools.

Here's a look at all ten schools in the conference, in order of their non-conference record. More effort was devoted to teams at the top end of the conference, so the previews generally get shorter as they go on.

1. Washington State (#4) 12-0

The Cougars are sitting pretty at 12-0 and #4 in the country, but like UCLA, they have one of the weakest schedules around. They've gotten some competition from Gonzaga and Baylor, but for the most part they've been playing teams like Mississippi Valley State, Idaho, Eastern Washington, North Carolina A&T, and Citadel.

Some of the same names from last year are leading the Cougars in the points column, notably Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver.

This season could be the year for Washington State to shine, as they lose three seniors out of their core group. Derrick Low, Robbie Cowgill and Kyle Weaver are gone after this season, but you can almost assure that Washington State will be competitive as long as Tony Bennett is head coach.

The Cougars are fourth in the country in shooting percentage, and are the best in the nation in scoring per possession. They shoot free throws exceptionally well, and are good at getting defensive rebounds.

However, they are not a good offensive rebounding team. Also, they foul a lot and commit a ton of turnovers.

On the schedule:
1/17 @ Freil Court
2/14 Gill Coliseum

2. UCLA (#5) 12-1

UCLA definitely had the most hype before the season started. They emerge from non-conference play 12-1, their only loss coming to the hands of Texas, who was once as high as #4 in the rankings. When the two teams played on December 2, Texas was ranked #8, and UCLA #2. Kevin Love is playing as advertised, leading the Bruins with 16.4 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game.

UCLA lost to Texas, but other than the Longhorns, the Bruins have had an extremely easy non-conference schedule. Their schedule is the 206th toughest in the country, which for a team trying to make noise in the final four, is very high. Only Arizona State, Oregon State, and Washington State have worse SOS's than UCLA.

Although most of UCLA's 12 wins have come over teams like Cal State San Bernardino, Yale, and Idaho State, (Oregon State doesn't have any room to talk) they're still the real deal. As I mentioned earlier, Kevin Love is a force on the inside. He's fourth in the conference in scoring and second in rebounds, and leads the conference in free throws attempted. While he's not as bad as Shaq from the stripe, he's hovering around 75%.

Kevin Love is UCLA's headliner, but he's not their only performer. They've got other names like Josh Shipp, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Lorenzo Mata. Shipp and Westbrook have started every game at guards, and Love has started every game at center. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has started every game at forward as well, but the Bruins have been alternating Darren Collison and Alfred Aboya into the starting lineup at the other forward position. The Bruins have many offensive threats, but they're one of the nation's best defensive teams. This is mainly because they're efficient, get rebounds, and teams are shooting just 19% from the line against them.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the Bruins once they start playing Pac-10 teams like Washington State, Stanford, Arizona State, etc.

On the schedule:
1/26 Gill Coliseum
2/21 @ Pauley Pavilion

3. Stanford (#24) 11-1

Stanford hasn't played a ranked opponent yet (they will Thursday), but only two of Stanford's games have been decided by ten points or less. One of those was a 62-61 win over Texas Tech on December 22, and the other was a 7 point win over Fresno State on Dec. 29. Stanford's only loss was to Siena, a then 1-2 team out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Stanford was ranked #20 at the time, and that game was the first time in 18 years that Siena beat a ranked opponent. And they did it by 13 points.

Last year, the Cardinal were led by brothers Brook and Robin Lopez. This year, Robin has started every game and has averaged 10.9 points per game and 6.1 rebounds. His brother Brook has had some academic issues, and sat out the first nine games of the season. At this point, he's played in three games and started one, averaging 19.3 points per game. In his first game against Santa Clara, Brook scored 20 points. In his most recent game against Fresno State, he scored 19 points and had 12 rebounds. If Brook can keep his grades up throughout this season, the Cardinal will be tough to beat with their Brook/Robin combo.

However, the Lopez brothers are not the only contributers on this Stanford team. Lawrence Hill, who was lights out shooting last year, is only averaging about ten points per game so far this season. He shot nearly 60 percent from the field last season, but is down in the 40's this year.

Junior guard Anthony Goods has taken over in Hill's place, and is scoring 12.8 points per game and shooting 58 percent from the field, up nearly twenty percentage points from a year ago.

On the schedule:
1/10 Gill Coliseum
2/9 @ Pauley Pavilion

4. Arizona State 10-2

Arizona State, who finished with a 2-16 and in last place of the Pac-10 last season are showing signs of life. They've got two of the conference's best freshmen in guards James Harden and Ty Abbott. James is averaging 16.9 points and 5.3 rebounds, and Ty is averaging 11.6 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Their two losses came to quality teams (Illinois and Nebraska), and their ten wins came to mostly non-quality teams, with the exceptions of their wins against LSU on Nov. 21 and Xavier on Dec. 15. However, LSU isn't what they've been in the past this season. Other than he Tigers and the Musketeers, Arizona State has been beating up on teams like Princeton, Florida Gulf Coast, Delaware State, and Coppin State.

James Harden, who I mentioned earlier, is their leader on offense, but they also return junior forward Jeff Pendergraph, who has been averaging 13.1 points per game. They have Ty Abbott as well, who I also mentioned earlier. Ty is a good three point shooter, and is solid on the defensive end as well.

It's hard to tell if the Devils are actually getting things moving in the right direction down in Tempe, or if they're just coasting on top of their easy non-conference schedule. They currently have the 274th toughest schedule in the nation.

On the schedule:
1/5 @ Wells Fargo Arana
3/8 Gill Coliseum

5. California 9-2

The Golden Bears return Ryan Anderson, one of the conference's top scorers from a year ago. He's continuing to get the ball through the hoop at a high rate, and leads the conference in scoring so far this season. He's playing back at his natural position, forward, since 6-11 senior center DeVon Hardin is back in the lineup this season. He missed most of the season last year with injuries.

Cal has a high team field goal percentage, but that is mostly thanks to the efforts of Ryan Anderson, who is averaging 22 points per game. He's shooting 54%, which is actually below the team average of 59.9 percent. Sharpshooter Harper Kamp (a freshman forward) has the highest field goal percentage on the team (71.4%), but has only attempted 35 shots. Kamp is 18-23 from the line, which is also impressive, especially for a freshman. Watch out for Kamp as the season progresses, but you also better know where Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin are at all times.

On the schedule:
1/12 Gill Coliseum
2/7 @ Haas Pavilion

6. Arizona (#21) 9-3

Although the Wildcats have three losses in their first twelve games, they have the strongest schedule in the country. Their three losses came to No. 2 Kansas, No. 3 Memphis, and Virginia. They beat #9 Texas A&M on Dec. 2, and other teams like UNLV, Fresno State, and Illinois.

Even though the Wildcats could make a run at the conference title, most of the headlines in the desert are about the leave of absence taken by coach Lute Olsen. Interim coach Kevin O'Neill (right) is expected to pick up right where Lute left off, and he's already got the Wildcats in good shape heading into Pac-10 play.

The Wildcats have a highly touted freshmen of their own, 6-3 guard Jerryd Bayless. He's averaging 18.5 points per game, and 4.2 assists. Supplement that with Chase Bundinger's 16 points per game and Jordan Hill's 13.6, and you've got a talented core group of offensive players.

However, Jerryd Bayless suffered a sprained knee in practice on December 28, right before the Wildcats were expected to play No. 2 Memphis. Arizona wound up losing the game. Jerryd isn't expected to play against the Oregon schools this week, which could be a good thing for the Beavers. Jerryd doesn't have a timetable for his return, but he hopes to be back when the Wildcats play Arizona State on January 9.

The Wildcats are also without starting forward Bret Brielaier, who has had a separated shoulder since a win over San Diego State on Dec. 22. He also missed the Memphis game. The Wildcats had not missed two regular starters in the same game for eight years prior to the 76-63 loss at Memphis.

On the schedule:
1/3 @ McKale Center
3/6 Gill Coliseum

7. Oregon 9-3

The Ducks started hot, winning 8 of their first nine games. They started the season ranked in the low teens in the polls, but since then, have slowly diminished from the national scene. They still have the nucleus from last year's Elite Eight team intact, with the exception of standout point guard Aaron Brooks. Seniors Malik Harston, Maarty Lennen and Bryce Taylor make up the senior nucleus, and Tajuan Porter enters the group this year as their sophomore.

Tajuan, who was to the Ducks last year what James Rodgers was to Oregon State's football team this year, has yet to prove himself as a strong leader at point guard. Last year, the 5-6 Porter was known for dropping threes form everywhere on the court. He made 110 three pointers in his freshman season, but is only 29 for 85 so far this season. The added pressure of running the point for the Ducks seems to be overwhelming for Porter, the shortest player in the Pac-10. However, he is still capable of shots like this:

On the schedule:
2/2 @ Mac Court
3/2 Gill Coliseum

8. USC #22 9-3

Think USC basketball, and you think O.J. Mayo. The freshman is averaging nearly 20 points a game for the Trojans, and has shown a strong overall game. On average, he sits out for less than five minutes every game, and leads the 'Pac in minutes played.

USC started the season off on a sour note by losing to Mercer (Mercer?), then would later lose back to back games to Kansas and Memphis. USC has taken care of business against the typical less talented opponents, as they've beaten the likes of Citadel, South Carolina, San Diego, Southern Illinois, Delaware State, and others.

On the schedule:
1/24 Gill Coliseum
2/23 @ Galen Center

9. Washington 9-4

The Huskies don't have the 7-footer Spencer Hawes anymore, but 6-7 post Jon Brockman has been lighting up the scoreboard recently. He leads the Huskies with 18.8 points per game, followed by Ryan Appleby wuth 13.

The Huskies won their first three games before losing four of their next five. They lost road games to Texas A&M, Syracuse, and Oklahoma State, then lost to Pittsburgh at home. They finished their non-conference schedule on a five game wining streak, coming from behind to beat LSU and pummeling Idaho State in their last two.

On the schedule:
1/19 @ Bank of America Arana
2/16 Gill Coliseum

10. Oregon State 6-6

Notice the drop off between the 9th place team and the Beavers. Washington is 9-4 in non-conference, the Beavers are 6-6. Really, there is no excuse for a Pac-10 program to win half of their preseason games against inferior opponents. Losses to Colorado State, Alaska-Fairbanks, Tennessee Tech, and Montana State? Come on.

If Oregon State wants to improve on their 3 win Pac-10 season from a year ago, they better hope that C.J. Giles starts playing like a wildebeest, or the Tarvers punch it into high gear. Marcel Jones also needs to have a good Pac-10 season if the Beavers want to do any damage.

This year, there are no "gimmies" for the Beavers. Last year, Arizona State was actually worse than the Beavers, and the Beavers got through the season by beating Arizona State twice and pulling an upset against Washington.