"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
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
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.