by Robert Ferringo - 03/06/2006
Maybe it's the East Coast Bias. Maybe it's the time differential. Maybe it's the lack of a dominant team. I don't know what it is, but I do know that the Pac-10 has been getting disrespected all season long.
It would be a huge mistake to underestimate the clubs on the Left Coast. While I do agree that from top-to-bottom the overall level of play isn't up to snuff with what we've come to expect from the Pac-10, I would argue that it doesn't make them any different from a league like the Big 12. I would also say that the individual talent and collective athleticism of the teams from this league will shock people.
But first things first.
The first round of the 2006 Pac-10 Tournament starts Wednesday, March 8 and runs until Saturday night's title game. The tournament will be held at The Staples Center in Los Angeles. The discrepancy between the first- and fifth-place schools is razor thin, which should make for an entertaining weekend.
Down year for the Pac-10? I say that they're just getting started.
UCLA Bruins (24-6, 14-4) - UCLA hasn't won the conference tournament in nine years. But through that stretch they've never possessed the best backcourt in the league, as they do this year with the dynamic duo of Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar. Ben Howland has the West Coast institution playing hard-nosed East Coast ball, which will make them a very tough out.
The Bruins have had trouble with potential quarterfinal opponent Arizona State (won by one and nine) but have dominated Oregon State (won by nine and 18). If they advance to the semis they will be matched up with one of two dangerous clubs - Arizona or Stanford. Yet it's nothing the Bruins can't handle.
Washington Huskies (24-5, 13-5) - The Huskies have been on a tear since their a brutal three-game losing skid in late January. That stretch caused coach Lorenzo Romar to insert 6-foot-8 bull Mike Jensen into the starting lineup for Jamaal Williams. UW promptly won six games in a row. It doesn't hurt to have probable league POY Brandon Roy (he's among the league leaders in 9 of the 13 listed statistics) leading the way.
The Huskies benefit from having the easiest road to the finals (Oregon/WSU winner, then Cal/USC winner). If they do get to that final game, we'll see if Roy is good enough to carry them to back-to-back league championships.
California Golden Bears (18-9, 12-6) - The Bears have definitely been the least heralded of the top teams in the Pac-10. I'm sure that has something to do with the fact that they've sucked for the last few years, and no one expects them to be any good.
In future NBA first-round pick Leon "Don't Call Me Cameron" Powe, Cal possesses the best big man in the tournament. Cal will shoot for its third consecutive win over USC this season in the quarters. However, they're in the precarious position of having to play them in back-to-back games.
Arizona Wildcats (18-11, 11-7) - These guys are the NCAA basketball version of the St. Louis Rams. They're a squirrelly team that is talented but perpetually disappointing. A perfect indicator is their dismal 10-19 ATS record this season.
Regardless, the Wildcats are a dangerous team in the one-and-done format. Arizona has already beaten quarterfinal opponent Stanford twice, once in overtime and again on Feb. 19 by four points. It's tough to beat a team three times in one season, but if the Wildcats do I wouldn't be that shocked if they topple the top-seeded Bruins in the semis. Then again, I wouldn't be shocked if the Bruins beat them by 25.
Look for Arizona to get hot this tourney, become a sheik pick in the Big Dance, and then get upset by a mid-major in the first round. Laugh all you want, but I've seen it a thousand times.
Stanford Cardinal (15-12, 11-7) - No team will be more focused, and more desperate, than the Cardinal when the 2006 Pac-10 Tournament tips off on Wednesday. As of right now, the Cardinal are definitely on the outside looking in of the NCAA Tourney. They have clawed their way to 11 conference wins, but still need at least a run to the finals here to earn an at-large bid.
The Cardinal haven't proven that they can beat the top teams in the conference. They are a subpar 2-6 against the top four seeds and are just 3-5 overall in the last three four weeks. Even if they can avoid a third loss to Arizona, they have been beaten by UCLA by an average of 18 points. Good luck with all that.
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The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's college basketball picks service.