Rise and Fall: Pac-10 Program Review

    
July 24th, 2008

Like civilizations, all great basketball programs eventually fall.. replaced by an upstart newcomer. In this week's Rise & Fall series, we'll take a look at which BCS programs are rising, falling, or merely treading water. Up today, the:

 

PAC-10

 

ARIZONA - DECLINING (SLOWLY )

While the Brandon Jennings loss hurts, its not the end of the world for this storied program.  In fact, a steady decline has been occurring for the last handful of seasons. Bracketing the turn of the century, the Wildcats were a Top 10 RPI team in 8 of 10 seasons, but its hard to imagine those lofty heights being met in the near future. The talent level just isn't what it once was, and with this group, just making the Big Dance will be an accomplishment.

 

ARIZONA STATE - RISING

In Tempe, there's definitely (and finally) positive momentum building.  Herb Sendek was obviously the first key, followed by the big catch of James Harden. With Harden back for another season, some are suggesting this is a Top 15 team. While I wouldn't go that far, this should be the best ASU team since at least 2003 (RPI of 32), and possibly as far back as the mid-nineties.

 

CALIFORNIA - DECLINING (SLOWLY )

While you might think this program is in a freefall, the reality is that the Bears haven't been good since 2003 (2006 being a flukey interlude). Last year's team won only 6 league games.. and that was with Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin. It would be an amazing accomplishment for new coach Mike Montgomery to match that total.  Montgomery and stud recruit DJ Seeley prevent Cal from dropping into the Declining (Quickly) category, but it will take some time to get things back on the right track.

 

OREGON - STATUS QUO

The Ducks have been frustratingly mediocre for the last decade. In fact, there's only been one Top 30 team in the past 8 years. Last year's experienced team blahed it up to a 9-9 Pac-10 record (the NCAA bid simply being a result of the league's undeserved hype). While the roster turns over with some talented kids coming in, another similar mediocre effort should be in store. For whatever reason, the administration is satisfied with this state of affairs (recently extending Kent's contract), but I'm not as easily impressed.

 

OREGON STATE - DECLINING (QUICKLY)

In a sense, this is an unfair assessment. Last year's results were such an embarrassment (to not only the program, but D1 basketball in general) that there's really nowhere to go but up. But maybe I'm wrong.. their RPI trend is from 103, to 176, to 198, to 276.. leaving 40 more spots for OSU to fall. (In reality, the Pac-10 schedule strength creates a floor around 280 or so that OSU couldn't possibly fall through unless they literally didn't win a game all season).

 

STANFORD - STATUS QUO

Last year was impressive, but the Lopez twins were the main reason why. Now they should be back to the trend set in 05-06-07, about 17 wins and an RPI of 60. If anything, it might be a little worse this year, but those middling NIT-type teams should be the norm in the near future.

 

UCLA - STATUS QUO

Ben Howland has already completed one of the all-time great turnarounds.. turning an 11-win program into a three-time Final Four participant in less than a blink of the eye. Now, there's really nowhere to go but down. But considering the monster class heading to Westwood and the return of Darren Collison, another Final Four trip is certainly within reason. When Final Fours become the "status quo", you know you're doing a great job.

 

USC - RISING (SLOWLY)

While the one-year OJ Mayo era might simply be replaced by the one-year Demar DeRozan era.. Tim Floyd has already done a good job getting the Trojans back on track. In the last four years, the RPI has risen every season.. and this year's crew should once again fall in the Top 25-30 range. The next step for the program (now that they have the Galen Center) is to add the needed depth that will sustain the growth for years to come.

 

WASHINGTON - DECLINING (SLOWLY)

From 3rd in the country in 2005, the Huskies RPI has dropped from 35 to 81 to 121.. pretty brutal stuff. But they avoid the dreaded "Declining Quickly" category because I expect big-time improvement this season due to the return of Jon Brockman and an impressive recruiting class. Still, this was a program that was seemingly all the rage a handful of years ago, and now Lorenzo Romar and crew barely register on the national radar.

 

WASHINGTON STATE - RISING (SLOWLY)

Coming off two of the most improbable Top 25 seasons in college basketball history.. WSU is now at a crossroads. Do they begin the steady slide back into the dark & dank confines of the conference cellar, or does Tony Bennett ride the wave and build up a legitimate Top 25 program? Based on this year's loaded recruiting class (for WSU's standards), the latter seems more likely. While a major drop-off should be expected with Weaver, Low, etc gone.. the future is still bright in Pullman.

 

- up next & last is the SEC -