Friday, August 20, 2010
Best Case/Worst Case: Pac-10
By Eamonn Brennan
The ESPN.com summer previewing tour continues with Summer Shootaround, our exhaustive August look at key college hoops conferences. In addition to helping out with the Shootarounds, yours truly will be adding some related commentary on this here blog. Today: a best-case/worst-case look at the Pac-10.
Best case: If there will be a recurring theme in the Pac-10's year to come, it will be volatility. Any number of young teams that struggled through 2009-10 can seize the moment and win the conference in 2010-11. Arizona is one of those teams. Derrick Williams should be among the best sophomores in the country, and if a few of his classmates can step up with him, Sean Miller should have his storied program back in the NCAA tournament again.
Worst case: For all the talent here, this is still a young team, and it will need sophomores like Lamont Jones and Solomon Hill to help draw pressure away from Williams by taking on larger scoring roles. It will also need to become a much better defensive team (No. 108 in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2009-10). Miller's teams at Xavier were defensive by nature, but if his young players still haven't picked it up by this year, Arizona will be only slightly better than .500 for the second year in a row.
Best case: The talk of the offseason revolved around Herb Sendek's slow pace -- which, despite the program's protests, is still a big feature of his offense. Sendek should open it up this year. His recruiting class is tall and athletic, and guard and wing play will again be his team's biggest strength. Fast or slow, though, what Sendek does works, and with most of last year's second-place Pac-10 team returning, a best case for the Sun Devils includes a league title and an NCAA tournament berth.
Worst case: It would be surprising to see ASU take a step back, but if it does, the losses of seniors Derek Glasser and Eric Boateng -- the former one of the team's most efficient scorers; the latter ASU's only experienced big man -- will be the reason why. Still, in a weak conference, ASU's worst case should be the NIT.
Best case: In the Shootaround team capsules, Diamond asked if the Bears are rebuilding. The answer: You betcha. (I can see the rebuilding from my house!) Cal lost four senior starters from its Pac-10 title-winning team, and those four seniors also happened to be some of the most efficient offensive players in all of college basketball. Collectively, the Bears were the fourth-most efficient offensive team in the country last season. Even with some intriguing youngsters, Mike Montgomery's short-term best case is a respectable rebuilding year.
Worst case: Worst case, on the other hand, would see the Bears drop all the way to the bottom of the league. That might be a bit drastic, but with so little depth returning from 2009-10, it's hard to see who in Berkeley can step up so soon.
Best case: Oregon made the right hire in Dana Altman. The problem is how long the school took in finding him. While they were deliberating (and throwing out Tom Izzo's name; yeah right, you guys), Oregon saw four players transfer from a team that finished second-to-last in a historically bad Pac-10. In other words, the Ducks better hope their new arena is a draw.
Worst case: Not only does Oregon struggle -- and it will struggle -- it does so in front of a sparse crowd at its expensive new arena. It could be a humbling few months for a program that expected to cement its elite status with a splashy hire this offseason.
Best case: Craig Robinson has done an admirable job transforming the Beavers into a semi-competitive Pac-10 team. After all, in 2008, the year before Robinson took over, the Beavers went 6-25 and lost every conference game. This seems like the right year to take another step forward. If promising sophomores Jared Cunningham and Joe Burton continue to improve, and UTEP transfer Eric Moreland can be an effective point man in Robinson's 1-3-1 zone, the Beavers might be able to take that "semi-" off the front of "competitive."
Worst case: Robinson's team is improving, but it's not exactly a power yet. The Beavers were an OK defensive team in 2009-10, but if they repeat their putrid offensive performance -- they averaged fewer than .984 points per possession (adjusted) last season, good for 213th in the nation -- OSU could miss out on the NIT, too.
Best case: Almost every player of note on last year's 14-18 Stanford team was either a senior or a sophomore. Unfortunately, among the seniors was (rather surprising) NBA draft pick Landry Fields, the Cardinal's leader in nearly every relevant statistical category. Johnny Dawkins will have to hope those sophomores -- particularly shooting guard Jeremy Green -- can pick up some of Fields' slack, but that hope would seem unrealistic.
Worst case: Given the loss of Fields, Stanford would probably be lucky to tread water at .500; if it's unlucky, 14-18 could end up seeming like a fond memory.
Best case: UCLA's backcourt has been decimated by one NBA draft entry after another, and in 2009-10, it showed. For the Bruins to get into best-case territory -- which would be a winning season, if not an NCAA tournament berth -- they need Malcolm Lee's move to shooting guard to work, they need someone (preferably Jerime Anderson) to figure out the point guard spot, and they need wide-bodied prospect and McDonald's All-American Josh Smith to stay as far away from McDonald's as possible.
Worst case: In many ways, this is the same UCLA team that failed to reach .500 last year, only without leading scorer Michael Roll. There's a chance the Bruins could improve without adding a superior recruiting class, but it's just as easy to see Howland's team struggling through another ugly campaign before turning it around in 2011-12.
Best case: It's easy to forget that last year's USC team was playing like an NCAA tournament squad until a batch of football-conscious self-sanctions (whoops) eliminated the Trojans' postseason. That had a lot to do with USC's three backcourt seniors, but it also revealed a pair of very talented frontcourt mates in Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson. Both anchored the nation's second-most-efficient defense, and if the Trojans can improve even slightly on offense, they could compete for the Pac-10 title.
Worst case: Fordham transfer Jio Fontan showed some scoring flair (averaging 15.3 points per game) in his freshman season, but USC will need more than Fontan to improve one of the country's worst offenses. Where will it come from? And if the Trojans can't find it, is there any chance they make the NCAA tournament?
Best case: And now for your prohibitive 2010-11 conference favorite -- the Washington Huskies. As any respectable college hoops previewer will tell you, losing Quincy Pondexter will be difficult to overcome. But the Huskies are so talented in the backcourt (Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton, Abdul Gaddy) and expect so much from top recruit Terrence Ross that the collectively high expectations seem appropriate. This team should make the NCAA tournament and win the Pac-10, and it shouldn't need until February to realize that fact.
Worst case: Much of Washington's season hinges on the ability of senior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who showed his first flashes of real productivity in March. If MBA can't anchor the frontcourt on his lonesome, Washington might be vulnerable to bigger, stronger teams.
Best case: If you're looking for this year's top "Wait, who is this dude? He's really good!" candidate, look no further. That's Washington State's Klay Thompson, who might end up as the Pac-10's best player in 2010-11. If Reggie Moore can complement Thompson's newfound scoring ability and Ken Bone can get his young team to defend, Washington State should be in the Pac-10 mix for much of the season.
Worst case: Thompson is all well and good, but even an improved and dynamic version of Thompson can't do it alone. If the Cougars can't get more from their supporting cast, they might be doomed to another sub-.500 season.