Thursday, 9 November 2006

College Basketball Preview: Pac-10

This conference has generally not been all that strong top-to-bottom the last few years, but times they a-changing. UCLA is back, Arizona is loaded, Washington is young and talented, and Oregon might finally play up to their potential. This will be a very solid conference.

Player of the Year: Last year's winner Brandon Roy graduated, making this a wide open race. The frontrunner is probably Marcus Williams from Arizona, and explosive scorer who flirted with the draft. He came back for his sophomore year, and should be the star on what will be a very good Arizona team. Next there are a couple of UCLA guys... Jordan Farmar is gone, but they could be even better this year, in part due to Arron Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (the best name in the country). Like Williams, Afflalo was prepared to test the draft water, but decided to come back, which was great news for UCLA. Afflalo is great in the midrange game, but perhaps more importantly is that he's an excellent defender at the 2 guard. Mbah a Moute impresses as a freshman, and looks to have an improved offensive game this year. He averaged over 8 rebounds per game as a freshman, so if the offense is improved as advertised, he'll be a threat to win the award. For the Oregon Ducks, if Malik Hairston finally lives up to his potential, he can be a Brandon Roy-like player. But for my money, I'll go with the steady Arron Afflalo.

Freshmen to Watch: Most of the talk here surrounds Chase Budinger of Arizona, one of the top freshman in the nation and a guy that Lute Olsen has praised over and over. He should be an excellent all-around player and contributor from day 1. Another big-time prospect is Spencer Hawes for Washington. After getting Jon Brockman last year, they scored another big-time big man, as Hawes was possibly the 2nd best C prospect in the country (after Greg Oden). Quincy Pondexter will also have a chance to contribute early for the Huskies. For UCLA, big man James Keefe should be a nice role player, though he won't have as big of an impact as last year's freshmen.

Breakout Players: Lots of great candidates here, especially among the top teams. UCLA will be getting Josh Shipp back from injury, and he was perhaps their best freshman 2 years ago before missing almost all of last year and receiving a medical hardship. Fran Franschilla called Josh Shipp a "human garbage cleaner" in one of his chats. Now, I have no idea what he's trying to say there, but the point is that Shipp is real good. UCLA also has Darren Collison replacing Jordan Farmar... Collison is very fast with the ball and a great defender. UCLA should hardly miss a beat with Collison replacing Farmar.

For the other frontrunner Arizona, they'll be getting Jawaan McClellan back. He's an excellent outside shooter and scorer that just makes them more potent. There are a couple of sophomores from Washington I really, really like. One is the frontcourt man Jon Brockman. He deferred a little to the upperclassmen last year, but he should be excellent this year and could even challenge for the Pac-10 Player of the Year if all goes well. The other guy I like is PG Justin Dentmon. He started as a true freshman as a PG, which is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. He's got great quickness and is a fine player and one of the key reasons Washington will hardly miss a beat.

What Else to Watch: I love Washington's potential, and Oregon should be much improved, but I think the race between Arizona and UCLA will be excellent. Both have great coaching, great depth, and are going to be two of the top teams in the country. UCLA is one of the best defensive teams while Arizona is one of the best offensive teams. This will be a great battle between two giants out West.

Predicted Order of Finish
2. Arizona
3. Washington
4. Oregon
5. USC
6. California
7. Stanford
8. Arizona St.
9. Oregon St.
10. Washington St.