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Columnists | Message Board  | Daily Dribble

By Michael Dugan

December 28th


Pac-10's "Demise" is Exaggerated


The Pac-10 has been atrocious this year—at least that’s the national perception. 


Without doubt, the conference has had its fair share of bad losses. USC opened their season by losing to Cal State Northridge and Oral Roberts; Arizona State lost to Utah Valley State, who only a short time ago was a JC; Oregon State lost to Tennessee Tech by 28 and also to Portland by 16; and both Georgetown and Illinois pasted Oregon, not to mention last night’s home loss to Portlant St, who many considered a sleeper pick for the conference title.


And surely Stanford’s early season struggles have been well documented.  Ranked in the top 15 by both pre-season polls, they have suffered a string of horrible losses.  First, there was the season opening defeat to positively dreadful UC Irvine—at home no less—and then came a three-game losing streak, which included a rout at the hands of Montana and loss to UC Davis.


Yet, every conference has had bad November and December losses—DePaul lost to Old Dominion by 44; Georgia Tech to Illinois-Chicago; Virginia to Fordham; Missouri to Sam Houston; and Purdue to Loyola-Chicago—but, for whatever reason, the Pac-10 has largely been singled out.  Nevertheless, it still stacks up well against any league in America.


Washington is 10-0 and ranked seventh nationally by the coaches, despite losing three starters off of last year’s team that won the Pac-10 title.  Their nation best 30-game home winning streak, includes a victory over in-state rival Gonzaga earlier this year. 


One of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch, the Huskies shoot over 50% from the field and lead the nation in scoring at nearly 96 points a game.  They got even better this past week when forward Mike Jensen returned to the starting lineup after suffering a dislocated shoulder last summer.  The 6’ 8” Jensen is a three-year starter and should provide the Huskies with some much-needed interior help, though he is versatile enough to step back and shoot from beyond the arc too.


Jensen, along with fellow seniors Bobby Jones, Brandon Roy and Jamaal Williams, gives Washington four experienced starters—a necessary ingredient for a long tournament run. Add to that solid contributions from freshmen Justin Dentmon and Jon Brockman, as well as sophomore Ryan Appleby, and they appear loaded for bear. Still, one has to wonder how good Washington could have been if Nate Robinson and highly regarded recruit Martell Webster had not opted for the NBA draft.  Such is life in college basketball, however.


Another team enjoying early season success is #11 UCLA. Super sophs Jordan Farmar and Aaron Affalo have the Bruins 10-1, including recent wins over Nevada and Michigan on the road. Head Coach Ben Howland plays a three-guard lineup with senior Cedric Bozeman joining Farmar and Affalo in the backcourt.


Bozeman, a former McDonald’s high school all-America, came to UCLA with great fanfare.  However, he has been limited by injuries throughout his career, not to mention an inconsistent jump shot. Yet, at the defensive end, his exceptional athletic ability and long arms make him a precious commodity.


Much like Washington, UCLA has also been playing somewhat short-handed.  Swingman Josh Shipp is set to return to the lineup following a hip injury that has sidelined him all season.  Shipp, according to some observers, is UCLA’s most talented player.


Arizona, led by senior forward Hassan Adams, is a talented squad with loads of potential.  Overrated at the beginning of the year and plagued by horrible shot selection, the Wildcats went out to Maui and were humbled by UConn and Michigan State.   When they returned, Houston beat them, and NAU and St. Mary’s took them to the brink at McKale Center. 


However, recently they have shown some signs of life.  A string of solid, albeit not spectacular victories, including an overtime thriller against underrated Western Kentucky, appear to have the Wildcats back on track.


Barring a collapse, Arizona will have no problem making the tournament, and their young players—freshmen Marcus Williams and JP Prince—will only get better with time.  Plus, they’ll get another shot in the arm when sophomore Jawaan McClennan returns from academic suspension in January.


The Pac-10, therefore, is alive and well—as USC’s victory over North Carolina further illustrates. And while some teams struggled early on, don’t be surprised if early disappointments like Oregon and Stanford turn it around; they possess far too much talent to play poorly all year. To paraphrase Mark Twain, stories about the Pac-10’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.




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