I'm welcoming myself to the blog-o-sphere. Hopefully, I'll keep up with my witty and timely remarks to keep the world a better place. With that...
I've been a real big fan of Pac-10 basketball this season. Not only has the conference been as deep as it's been in recent history, but also one of the greatest crops of incoming talent. I really believe that six teams should make it to the dance and the conference should be good for ten wins there. In reverse order, let me tell you why I like the Pac-10 so much:
ASU - Everytime they've played a conference game, the opposing coaches made the default comment that they're the best 0-12, 0-13, 0-14 team they've ever seen until they actually beat USC. The truth is, that they have the talent to be a middle of the pack team next season. Just too young to handle the rigors of the Pac-10.
OSU - Really should be at the top of this bottom list. It seems like they produce the same team year after year, except for changing the names on the jerseys. Until this team gets a Drew Bennett clone to coach them, they won't have that much of a chance. At least here's a team that can give others a break in the schedule.
Cal - While the early season injuries have really left the Bears without much of a chance, at least I've had the joy of watching Ryan Anderson suprise. You won't find him on any top 150 recruits list from last season, but he's the only player in the Pac-10 in the top ten in scoring and rebounding. He's the best fundamental player I've seen at Cal. Athletically is a different story though.
Washington - We got teased that this was going to be a transitional year with a 10-1 start including a win against LSU. When we realized that right away that Spencer Hawes just walked right in to be the best center in the Pac-10, that the Huskies would be challenging UCLA again for Pac-10 supremecy. But with that success, I charge that the team overlooked conference play and never fully recovered. When a team like this though is in seventh place, you know you have a very strong conference.
Arizona - They have the most talented starting five in the conference. They also have the lowest combined talent coming off of the bench. When they're on, they look like a top five team in the country. When they're off, they could barely hang with an NBAE league team. Fun to watch no less.
Oregon - A team who's achillies heel has been it's size up front, but has found a style of play to fit it's own. I find that it's often harder for the athletic teams to find consistancy, but then Ducks have been one of the best in that respect.
Stanford - This was a team that was very hard to figure out preseason because they were so young. Somehow, the blowout loss at home to Cal really lit a fire underneath this team and we've seen many glimpses of what they can be. While they still are consistant, when they're on their game they really can use their size to make it seem like you have to shoot through trees to get a look at the basket.
USC - Somewhat similar to Oregon in that they like size, but while the Ducks might be more athletic, the Trojans have far better fundamentals. What this team needs is one more competent big man, not a top five recruit, but that's for next year's column. Tim Floyd would deserve coach of the year honors, except that...
Washington State - ..Drew Bennett coaches the Cougars. Sadly there must be some underground rule that we are not allowed to watch or read about them other than box scores, so my exposure has been somewhat limited. From what I have seen though, is a thought that I've always maintained that in college, you can be successful with subpar talent as long as you can bring up the intensity to play tight, disciplined basketball for a sustained amount of time. Washington State, you are that team.
UCLA - Is almost in a lose/lose situation. Last season set expectations so high that anything other than a return to the finals seems like a failure. The sad part is that this is a better team than last year, but it may not get the same draw of avoiding teams with inside presence earlier in the tournament. The main bright spot is that with different players fighting health issues this season, they have always found a way to win. While many teams fail to repeat their success in the tournament, a la the sophomore jinx, I think UCLA is poised for another deep run in March.