2009-10 Pac-10 Basketball Predictions
by Robert Ferringo - 11/9/2009
There really isn't a better way to describe the talent in the Pac-10 from last season to this season. Graduation, transfers and a little thing called the NBA has simply gutted the talent in one of college basketball's perpetually most competitive conferences. As a result, I would expect a significant drop-off in play out of the Pac-10 this year and all of those West Coast hoops haters should have plenty of ammunition from now until March.
Only four of the 15 players that were named to the All-Pac-10 first, second or third teams are back on campus this season. Only 27 of 60 returning starters are back in the conference this year, and that 45 percent return rate is by far the lowest of any major conference in the nation. That includes the Big East, which was also drained by the NBA Draft.
Further, just six of the Pac-10's top 15 leading scorers, five of their top 15 rebounders and four of their top 10 assist men are also back with their respective clubs this season.
Unfortunately for the league, the turnover wasn't just limited to the players. Three new coaches will be prowling the Pac-10 sidelines this season and that now means that since April of 2008 six of the 10 teams in the conference have changed coaches. That is pretty incredible turnaround in a BCS conference, even in a sport that generally sees a lot of shuffling at the head coaching level.
So things could be a little sloppy and a little ugly out in Pac-10 country this year. But that doesn't mean that it won't provide us with ample opportunity to cash in on the Mess out West.
Here are my 2009-10 Pac-10 Basketball Predictions to help you with your college basketball picks:
The Favorite: California
I wasn't on the Cal bandwagon last year - I was driving it. And for the most part Mike Montgomery's group didn't let me down. But now the word is out on the Bears and it's going to be impossible for this group to sneak up on anyone this season. Cal brings back an incredible four three-year starters and has perhaps the best perimeter trio in the country in Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson. Randle is a stud, and I felt he was one of the two or three best point guards in the country last year. So this season I don't think there's a doubt he's the best triggerman in the nation. There is only one thing that is keeping me from penciling in the Golden Bears for the Final Four: that's Jordan Wilkes' stunning decision to quit the team with one year of eligibility remaining. Now Cal is a little light on the inside and I have serious issues about their toughness and ability to gut out games. This group executes as well, if not better, than any team in the country. But they aren't physical and I wonder if they can possibly shoot as well from the field as they did last year. But they are the best in the West and will have every shot to prove it.
The Challenger: Washington
I think that people need to slow their roll with this Huskies team. I understand that in a weak year for the Pac-10 their exciting young backcourt of Isaiah Thomas, super-frosh Abdul Gaddy, and feisty Venoy Overton is as good as any out west. However, there is simply no possible way that the Huskies can make up for the toughness, leadership, skill, rebounding, and presence of departed forward Jon Brockman. This team was light inside even with Brockman doing work on a night-in, night-out basis. So without him I don't know how they'll hold up. Fortunately, Cal isn't much better on the interior. Washington led the league in scoring offense last year despite the fact that they don't shoot well from the outside. At all. This team lacks veteran leadership, lacks consistent outside shooters, and lacks any steady presence in the paint. But yeah, other than that they're really, really good.
The Dark Horse: Oregon
I'm excited about what this Ducks team brings to the table this season. Last season I predicted a down year for a team decimated by graduation. Oregon stumbled early and just got worse as the year went on. But I think that their bounce-back season is perfectly timed with an unstable year in the conference. In the last two years following a losing season by the Ducks, Ernie Kent has guided his team to a Pac-10 title and an Elite Eight berth. I think that's a stretch for this group. But they have some nice pieces. I am a Tajuan Porter fan and feel that he could have a great senior season if he gets some help in the backcourt. In fact, I think that's one of the keys to the season. The Ducks are going to try to press and quicken the pace this year, utilizing their athleticism. The team has five starters back and one of the top freshman swingmen in the nation in Jamil Wilson. At the very least it should be an entertaining season in Eugene.
The X-Factor: UCLA
They just win. I don't know how else to explain it. I know that every metric for projecting long-term success indicates that UCLA is going to be a doormat in the Pac-10 this year. But all Ben Howland has done is win 123 games over the last four years and finish in the top six of the RPI - that's in ALL of college basketball, not in the conference - in three of those four seasons. This team lost four of five starters, has no clear point guard or go-to guy, and it has already endured a slew of preseason injuries. Things are not looking good and the Bruins are a clear team to fade this year. But I just can't help but come back to the fact that all the Bruins do is win. They will factor into the Pac-10 title race one way or another.
The Surprise Team: Oregon State
I really like the deliberate method of this seemingly woebegone program. The Beavers improved their record to 18-18 last year, just one season after going 6-25. And now they are a sleeper for a league title. This group is the most experienced team in the league and boasts three seniors that have started alongside one another for the last three years. Coach Craig Robinson runs a modified Princeton offense on one end and employs a quirky, yet effective, 1-3-1 defense on the other. The whole machine revolves around talented big man Roeland Schafternaar, who is one of the best passing big men and most efficient offensive players in the country. This team has a lot of momentum. Robinson is the brother-in-law of President Barrack Obama and that has given his program some sizzle. This group won the fledgling CBI Tournament to cap last year so they ended on a high. And with four returning starters, a load of experience, and a bumper recruiting class this team is headed to a profitable year.
The Disappointment: Arizona State
James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph comprised one of the best inside-out combinations in college basketball last year. They are gone. And now Arizona State is left with a bunch of guys that maxed out as role players for a decent NCAA Tournament team. That doesn't make for a promising year. I can't overstate enough how much the Sun Devils relied on Harden and Pendergraph over the last two seasons and what a void the duo's departure leaves. And, to be frank, this team underachieved while they had those two NBA talents, so what are they going to do with no go-to guy, no size underneath, and just one guy that's sniffed averaging double-digits over the last two years? I say not much.
Arizona - New coach Sean Miller isn't wasting any time. He hauled in one of the top recruiting classes on the West Coast and he's got some interesting pieces to work with. Normally this would be a weak transition year and the Wildcats would struggle. But the Pac-10 kind of sucks this year so there is really no reason that this team can't be a player. Point guard Nic Wise has been one of my favorite college players for two years and is the most clutch guard in the country. I'm looking for a nice jump this year from Jamelle Horne, who could thrive in Miller's system. But even though this team has some potential it's really a mixed bag and will be tough to truly handicap until I see them in person.
Washington State - Yeah, they are going to suck. Badly. I know there is a lot of buzz about Klay Thompson, the sophomore forward who can do a bit of everything. And I tip my hat to him. But the kid is nowhere near good enough to carry this flaming pile to respectability. Coach Tony Bennett split for Virginia and left a bunch of empty cupboards for new head man Ken Bone. Bone comes from Portland State where he guided a run-and-gun group to back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids. And that's the biggest problem: Bennett recruited a bunch of guys to fit into his slow, methodical, grind-you-down defensive style and now Bone comes in and says he wants to push the tempo. November's schedule is easy and that might help us build up some value. But in December this team should show its true colors.
USC - Doom and gloom. Those are the only predictions coming out of the Galen Center. And I get it. Somehow new coach Kevin O'Neil is still getting respect as a solid coach even though his resume leaves a lot to be desired. Also, check out this quote from a preseason publication: "Not all the players like the coach. But guess what? The coaches don't like all the players sometimes, either. It's kind of the way it goes, especially when you are in rebuilding situations." Um, okay. Tim Floyd left this program in shambles (surprise, surprise) and lost nearly every significant recruit that USC was hoping for. But, this year anyways, in a lot of respects I think USC is comparable to Arizona (minus the recruits): New coach. New system. Some nice pieces. And a go-to guy. I really like swingman Dwight Lewis but we're going to find out if he has another gear. But some injuries and a lot of question marks really have this team in my "Stay Away" category. They won't be any good early, but we'll see if they are dangerous in February.
Stanford - Yeah, they really suck too. This is going to be a long, long year for coach John Dawkins. He had the cushion of four senior starters to ease him into his first coaching gig last year, but now there is no safety net. This roster is gutted and there just isn't a lot - past Landry Fields - to be excited about. Much like Washington State, this team has a soft November followed by a brutal December. Get against them early. I have a feeling it's going to get real ugly, real fast around Palo Alto.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and he has gained nearly +300 Units over the past three college basketball seasons. You can purchase his college basketball picks here.
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