Pac-10 Conference Basketball Predictions and Betting Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 11/10/2008
It's simply amazing to me how perfectly in sync the Pac-10 Conference is this year in terms of football and basketball.
Both football and hoops seemed to peak last season as national powers, and with a mass exodus of its top performers the league has degenerated into a free-for-all. There is the stalwart program - USC in football and UCLA in basketball - trying to hold off the upstart program from the desert - Arizona in football, Arizona State in basketball. There is a dangerous California program with Little Brother Syndrome that wants to make a run at the champ - Cal in football, USC in hoops. And in both leagues Washington State is going to suck.
The Pac-10 was, in my opinion, the third-best college basketball conference over the past three years, just a shade behind the Big East and the Big 12. However, most of the stud players that made this such a dominating league have apparently moved on to greener pastures, leaving behind rosters full of role players that need to step up in order to keep their team, and the conference, afloat in the Lake of National Prestige.
That said, the leveling of the Pac-10 playing field has created one thing: opportunity. Unlike the Big 12, which I think has its three or four legitimate teams and then witnesses a steep drop-off, I believe that there are some very dangerous, very profitable teams waiting to emerge on the Left Coast. Teams like Arizona State, Cal, and Washington have been biding their time over the last several years as the powerhouse teams treated them like personal podiums. But now I think that the tables will be turned and that we're going to see some "surprise" names emerging in the P-10 race.
Just don't be surprised when those teams are the ones I'm about to school you on. Here's a preview and college basketball predictions for the 2008 Pac 10 Conference:
The Favorite: UCLA
This era of Bruins teams may be remembered as the Buffalo Bills of college basketball. But when you sit back and think about how difficult it is just to make three straight Final Fours you have to be absolutely amazed at how good this program is. And with the nation's most experienced backcourt, and maybe its best freshman, there is a realistic shot that the Bruins could make it four-for-four. I don't think it will happen, but the bottom line is that this team continues to reinvent itself (from Farmar to Afflalo to Love to Holiday). If their post players, Al Aboya, Nik Dragovic, Jim Keefe, and frosh J'Mison Morgan, take a step forward and provide defense, rebounding, and some scoring, then this team is in business. And we actually may find some value with the Bruins because, yet again, their losses are expected to be critical.
The Challenger: Arizona State
Hats off to Herb Sendek for apparently finding high ground in Tempe. The Sun Devils bring back all five starters from a team that was one of the last two or three out of the NCAA Tournament field last year, and they won't be denied now. James Harden is an All-American and post Jeff Pendergraph is the real deal. The main reason to like this team is the experience and cohesiveness that they have within Sendek's quirky system. This team is dedicated defensively and they have the depth to run-and-gun or execute in the half-court. Two keys for this Sun Devils team: 1) Derek Glasser and Jerren Shipp have to shoot better from the field, and 2) they have to adjust to being the hunted rather than the hunter. If those two things happen, watch out.
The Dark Horse: USC
The Trojans will come at foes in waves this year. Tim Floyd is stockpiling a lot of talent in SoCal and this team is ready to compete now. Big point guard Daniel Hackett and center Taj Gibson may be the two most underrated players at their position in the conference. Dwight Lewis is a legit go-to guy who will spread his wings without O.J. Mayo around. And if transfer Alex Stephenson is granted eligibility he'll team up with several newcomers to give USC depth and explosiveness. The pieces should be there. Now it is up to Floyd to put them together.
The X-Factor: Arizona
This team is a mess. The Lute Olson situation is going to hang over this team all year and by January I'm sure Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger will already be looking ahead to draft day. This roster is extreme. On one end they have probably have two of the 10 best players in the entire league and a savvy veteran point guard to lead the way. On the other end they have no experience, no depth, and a new head coach (Russ Pennell) with no real clue. You know they will be good for an upset or two, and will be upset once or twice. I really don't think anyone can say for sure how this season will go for Arizona. And that makes them dangerous.
The Surprise Team: Washington
I guess the surprise is going to be that Washington is finally going to be decent two years after everyone expects them to be. I have made a mint betting against the Huskies and Lorenzo Romar over the last two seasons. But now I think it's time to jump on board. The Huskies have a cupcake schedule - with 19 of 31 games at home and no nonconference heavyweight matchups - and should gain some momentum from their strong start. There are few players, if any, in the country that are more valuable to their team than Jon Brockman, who is simply a stud on both ends of the court. They also have a flashy freshman point guard by the name of Isaiah Thomas and a lot of experience dotting the roster. Buy in early. Because they will get overrated because of a nice record borne of a cushy schedule. But this will be Washington's breakout year. Finally.
The Disappointment: Washington State
After all of that work to turn Washington State into a nationally respected program, Tony Bennett has to go back to the drawing board. The Cougars lost their best three players from a team that had next to no depth. They do have a solid inside-outside duo with Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes. And that would be enough in the WCC or the WAC, but not the Pac-10. The truth is that Bennett's father is the one who put together the group that played so well the last two years, and that the program may just be another also-ran that benefited from a couple great college players. This team has some marquee matchups in the nonconference, but I don't think they are up to it.
The Moneymaker: California
Mike Montgomery is back in the Pac-10 and should be good for at least three wins all by himself. Ben Braun didn't leave the cupboard bare, and this team is definitely going to be a key player in the Pac-10 race. They bring back their No. 2 and No. 3 scorers, who happen to be their starting backcourt, and Theo Robertson returns from a redshirt season. Robertson has looked great in the preseason and is the team's top player. They are young in the post, but they have a lot of options and that will be enough for them to compete. The entire issue with this team is whether or not they want to play defense. I know you can say that about just about any Pac-10 team, but it's critical with this club.
Oregon - In a lot of ways the Ducks are the perfect example of what I was talking about in my lead. They have been blitzing lesser league teams with their perimeter power for three years now. But now their roster is gutted and a team that has been a steady play for hoops junkies in going to be vulnerable to vengeance. This team isn't going to the Big Dance and that's quite the fall from grace for a program that was just a game away from the Final Four two years ago. The Ducks brought in a solid recruiting class but they don't have a single senior on the roster. Pint-sized point machine Tajuan Porter is the unquestioned leader and will be a blast to watch, but even he can't make up for the loss of four of the top five scorers and the only size that the Ducks had. (And that size was severely lacking as is.) The Ducks play a very difficult nonconference schedule. The best-case scenario is that they perform well in Maui and then we can bank betting against them the rest of the season.
Stanford - The Twin Towers - Sideshow Bob and Cecil - are gone, but there is still some talent on this Cardinal club. Forward Lawrence Hill was an all-league performer before taking a back seat to the Lopez twins. He'll be counted on to be a consistent double-double guy once again. The crux of this team is the veteran backcourt of Goods and Johnson, and they will both have to step their games up to keep this team afloat. Stanford will be breaking in a virgin coach, Johnny Dawkins from Duke, and the problem is that they don't have the raw athleticism to keep up with the top tier of the conference. This is going to be a good team to fade.
Oregon State - Well, it can't get any worse. Oregon State was an absolute tsunami of trouble last year and floundered to a 6-25 overall mark. Enter Barack Obama's brother-in-law, a.k.a Craig Robinson. The good news is that this team has a lot of experience. The bad news is that experience has been about as much fun as the McCain-Palin concession party. They can brew an upset or two. But this team is going to stink yet again.
For more information on Ferringo's college basketball picks, check out his Insider Page here.