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Conference Countdown: No. 7 Pac-10

Pre-season Awards

Player of the Year: Klay Thompson, Washington State

Thompson started the 2009-2010 on a torrid streak, averaging 25.6 ppg over his first 13 games. A volume shooter in just about every definition of the word, Thompson’s game is based around his excellent shooting range (ask San Diego). The rest of his game has developed -- he’s a better shooter off the dribble, he showed improvement getting to the rim and getting to the line -- but as good as Thompson was during the first few months of the season, he struggled quite a bit in Pac-10 play. As the focal point of every defensive scheme, Thompson struggled to get to the foul line at the same rate and started forcing tougher and tougher shots. As he gets stronger and continues to develop his offensive repertoire, there is reason to believe that Thompson will be able to handle the defensive focus this season. And as Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto continue to improve around him, don’t be surprised if he gets easier opportunities.

And a close second goes to: Isaiah Thomas, Washington

Thomas is a dynamo. At just 5'9", the lefty is a terror to keep out of the paint. More of a natural scorer than a natural point, Thomas is strong enough to bully his way to the rim against bigger opponents and athletic enough to finish when he gets there. He’s a streaky shooter, but when he is on he’s as dangerous a scorer as you will find on the West Coast. Thomas, and the Huskies, were considered major disappointments last February, as Washington was struggling to remain above .500 in a very weak Pac-10. But Thomas played great basketball down the stretch, improving his shot selection, limiting his turnovers, and becoming more of a leader than just a scorer. Washington fans hope that carries over into this season.

Breakout Star: Malcolm Lee, UCLA

There are a few guys I liked in this spot -- Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Nikola Vucevic, and Reggie Moore, to be specific -- but I think Lee is hands down the most talented of that group. It also means that his first two seasons have been quite a disappointment. Lee is talented, there is no question about that. He’s 6'5", he is athletic with an awesome first step, and he is quick-learner -- he spent much of last season playing the role of point guard as Jerime Anderson continued to struggle. There are some things Lee certainly needs to work on -- his jumper has been lacking, as well as his shot selection (when you shoot 25% from three, you shouldn’t be taking a third of your shots from beyond the arc), and he could use some strength on his frame -- but this kid was predicted as a first rounder before last season. If the Bruins can find some stability at the point and Lee can slide into his more natural spot off the ball, he could make a big leap this season.

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY - Klay Thompson, Washington State, Jr.
  • G - Isaiah Thomas, Washington, Jr.
  • G - Malcolm Lee, UCLA, Jr.
  • G - Reggie Moore, Washington State, So.
  • F - Nikola Vucevic, USC, Jr.
  • F - Derrick Williams, Arizona, So.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • G - Jeremy Green, Stanford, Jr.
  • G - Ty Abbott, Arizona State, Sr.
  • G - Allen Crabbe, Cal, Fr.
  • F - Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Washington, Sr.
  • F - DeAngelo Casto, Washington State, Sr.

Freshman of the Year: Allen Crabbe, Cal

The past two seasons, Cal has been one of the most fun programs in the country to watch simply because of the outstanding talent they had in their back court -- Patrick Christopher, Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson. But with those three graduating, the Golden Bears are going to have to rely on freshmen to pick up the slack. The best of the bunch in Crabbe, a 6'6" shooter that was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in California last season. Known primarily as a jump-shooter, the rest of his game really started to develop during his senior season. And with the underrated Gary Franklin running the show, Crabbe should be plenty of good looks this year.

All-Freshman Team:

  • G - Gary Franklin, Cal
  • G - Kaela King, Arizona State
  • G - Terrence Ross, Washington
  • G - Roberto Nelson, Oregon State
  • F - Josh Smith, UCLA

What Happened?:

  • Expansion: This will be the final season of the Pac-10. While the conference didn’t quite get the 16 teams they wanted by swallowing up the majority of the Big XII, the league did manage to add Utah and Colorado to their mix.
  • Oregonian Drama: The Ducks pretty thoroughly embarrassed themselves as they chased the like of Brad Stevens and Tom Izzo and Mike Anderson and, well, pretty much any coach that you can name. Eventually, they landed Dana Altman from Creighton, which, all in all, is a pretty good hire.

    That wasn’t it. Terrence Jones originally committed to the Washington Huskies in a press-conference with high school teammate Terrence Ross. But he eventually went back on that commitment and is now at Kentucky. He wasn’t the only player to waffle on Washington. Enes Kanter did as well, and he ended up at Kentucky too. Oh, and 2011 recruit Tony Wroten seems to be down Kentucky and Washington, amongst others. Anyone else think the potential matchup between Kentucky and Washington in Maui will be fun?

  • You gotta feel for this kid: Stanford’s Andy Brown. He missed his senior year in high school, he redshirted last season, and he is going to miss this season. All because he tore his left acl three times.
  • Arizona State has an eventful offseason: Rihard Kuksiks nearly left school. Kyle Cain originally signed with Rhode Island, but after he was let out of his LOI by URI, he ended up in Tempe. Carrick Felix, a JuCo transfer, originally committed to Duke, but then went back on that and he, too, is at Arizona State. Then there is Demetrius Walker (remember him?) who is now headed to New Mexico.
  • More UCLA turnover: Transfers galore into and out of Westwood. J’Mison Morgan is headed to Baylor, Mike Moser is off to UNLV, and Drew Gordon bounced to New Mexico. But Ben Howland also brings in some transfers. David and Travis Wear, the twins from UNC, will both be eligible next season, and Lazeric Jones in a JuCo player brought in to help shore up the Bruin’s back court problems. And Ben Howland brought in Matt Carlino a year before he graduated high school.

What’s next?:

  • Expansion: Utah will be joining the league next season, and Colorado will be coming on in 2012. The question is now how will the conference be divided up. It seems reasonable to assume that the league is going to go to two divisions -- they want that football title game and all. But every school wants to be in the same division as USC and UCLA. Its quite the recruiting advantage to be able to play in Southern California every season.
  • Unpredictability: There is so much youth (there are 17 seniors in the conference. 17!!!!), so much turnover, and so much mediocrity in the Pac-10 this season that predicting this league after Washington at the top is nothing more than a crap shoot. While there may not be a ton of NCAA Tournament teams and lottery picks coming out of this Pac-10, what we can count on is entertaining basketball games and a wild conference championship race. The Pac-10 is going to be fun to follow this year.
  • Roberto Nelson: Nelson was Craig Robinson’s star recruit in the class of 2009, but he was never able to get academically eligible. Well, Nelson will be allowed to play this season. Can he help turn around the Beaver program? Nelson was also featured prominently in George Dohrmann’s book Play Their Hearts Out.
  • Who is that team in green?: I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t recognize the Oregon basketball team next season. New head coach. Four transfers. And a new court. Need I mention the Michael Dunigan mess?

Power Rankings:

  1. Washington: The Huskies lose Quincy Pondexter, who was the only first rounder to come from the Pac-10 last season. But even with that loss, U-Dub is essentially the only program in the conference that could be considered to be doing well. After a Sweet 16 trip last season, Lorenzo Romar returns everyone of consequence save Pondexter. The diminutive Isaiah Thomas will be back for his junior campaign to lead the Huskies back court. Thomas is a big-time scorer and playmaker and will be complimented very well by Venoy Overton, who is probably the best defender in the conference. Also expect big things from Abdul Gaddy, the second-rated point guard in the class of 2009 (behind John Wall) that struggled at times as a 17 year old freshman. Also joining them in the back court will be freshman Terrence Ross, a 6'5" shooting guard that should be able to contribute immediately, and 6'6" wing Justin Holiday (Jrue’s older brother), a lanky and athletic small forward. Up front, this team certainly has the talent, the question is whether that group ever reaches that level. Matthew Bryan-Amaning is a 6'9" power forward with length and athleticism that will be counted on to replace some of Pondexter’s scoring and boards. Behind him, Darnell Gant and Desmond Simmons will be asked to play more predominant roles, while JuCo transfer Aziz N’Diaye will a shot-blocking presence, and very well could end up in the starting lineup. The front court depth took a hit when Tyreese Breshers retired due to injuries. Washington right now is the hands-down favorite to win the Pac-10. If they don’t, they have only themselves to blame.
  2. Arizona: In a wide open Pac-10, the Wildcats certainly have the talent necessary to make a run at the league title even with the loss of Nic Wise. The problem is that the majority of that talent is going to be freshmen and sophomores. Derrick Williams should be one of the best sophomores in the country, and will be even more productive as his post game develops. Senior Jamelle Horne isn’t the brightest, but he does have some talent and his ability to spread the floor will help create space for Williams inside. Solomon Hill, Kryrl Natyazhko, and Kevin Parrom are all sophomores, and their development this season will go a long way towards determining how good Arizona will be this season. Perhaps the most pressure, however, is going to fall on Lamont “MoMo” Jones. Arizona is known as Point Guard U for good reason, and MoMo is the one that will be taking the reins this season. MoMo showed some promise as a scorer last season, but he will be counted on to be a leader and a distributor this year. Joining him in the back court will be junior Kyle Fogg, who has proven to be a solid scorer and shooter, along with junior Brandon Lavender and freshmen Daniel Bejarano and Jordin Mayes. The Pac-10 is difficult to predict, Arizona even more so with their youth. This team could put it all together and make a run to the league title, or they could suffer from inexperience and finish below .500 in the league. Neither would surprise me, but the former seems much more likely than the latter.
  3. UCLA: Last season, UCLA finished below .500 overall and in Pac-10 play. And while they lost Michael Roll, Nikola Dragovic, and James Keefe as well as Mike Moser, J’Mison Morgan, and Drew Gordon to transfer, there is reason to believe that UCLA can have more success this season. For starters, there is Malcolm Lee. Lee has yet to live up to the hype he had coming into the program, but if he can iron out some of the inconsistencies he had last season, there’s hope that he can eventually fulfill that potential as a junior. Jerime Anderson is back at the point, although he has never lived up to his hype, either. Lazeric Jones, a JuCo transfer, was brought in to compete with Anderson for minutes and, potentially, a starting spot. Joining them in the back court will be freshmen Tyler Lamb and Matt Carlino. The biggest issue will be up front, as most of the Bruin big men have left the program or will be sitting this season out. Sophomore Reeves Nelson looks primed for a big bump this season. The tough, physical Nelson plays power forward like a football player and once he adds some post moves to his repertoire, he could be a dangerous player in the conference. Joining him up front is Tyler Honeycutt, who is more of a perimeter player than a front court player, and Josh Smith, a 6'10" behemoth. At one point, he reportedly weighed over 300 pounds, but the latest on Smith is that he is much better shape. Depth, inexperience, and a lack of size will likely be issues, but there is talent on this roster. Who develops -- and how much they develop -- will determine how good this team ends up being.
  4. Washington State: The Cougars lost six players to transfer, but only one -- Xavier Thames -- played any kind of significant minutes. The Cougars also lost starter Nikola Koprivica to graduation, but beyond that they return four of their top five scorers. Klay Thompson is the best returning player in the conference, a scorer that has developed a solid offensive arsenal based around his dangerous jumper. He can score points in a hurry. Reggie Moore had a very productive freshman campaign at the point, and DeAngelo Casto is one of the better big men in the Pac-10. Those three combined form arguably the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. The problem is there is not much depth on this team. They really only went seven deep a season ago, and with two of those seven gone, Bone did not bring in much of anything in the recruiting trail. Marcus Capers and Brock Motum will both see time, likely as starters. If Bone can develop a bench for this group, they have a shot at making an NCAA Tournament run.
  5. California: The Golden Bears are essentially in complete rebuilding mode. Their top four scorers -- essentially their only four scorers -- from last season all graduated, and sixth man Omondi Amoke was booted from the program. The leading returning scorer is Jorge Gutierrez, a scrappy, 6'4" off-guard known more for his defense than anything. That said, Gutierrez was a solid play maker and shooter the last two seasons playing a supporting role, meaning he may be able to elevate his game. He likely will need to, as the rest of the Cal back court looks to be freshmen. Allen Crabbe is a shooter and the reigning Gatorade California player of the year and Gary Franklin seems poised to take over the point guard role, while fellow freshmen Emerson Murray and Alex Rossi, along with sophomore Brandon Smith, will contribute minutes. The front court will be more experienced. Markhuri Sanders-Frisson returns, as does Harper Kamp, who get redshirted last season with an injury. Sophomore Bak Bak will provide depth for the Bears up front, and don’t be surprised is freshman Richard Soloman sees minutes with 7'3" Max Zhang leaving to play professionally in China. Mike Montgomery knows what he is going to get out of his front court -- size, toughness, experience, leadership. The question mark is the back court. How good Gutierrez, Crabbe, and Franklin are will likely determine how good Cal ends up being.
  6. Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost quite a bit this season. Derek Glasser, Eric Boateng, and Jerren Shipp all graduated. Victor Rudd, Demetrius Walker, and Tyler Rohde all transferred. That said, Herb Sendek still has some talent on his roster. He caught a break whenRihard Kuksiks decided not to turn pro in his native Latvia. Ty Abbott is a senior and has developed into a more-than-capable scorer on the wing. Jamelle McMillan, the son of Nate McMillan, should be fine stepping into the point guard void left by Glasser. Trent Lockett showed flashes of being a big time player as a freshman. That’s a solid returning back court, and we haven’t even gotten to the talent that Herb Sendek brings in this year. Keala King is the most highly rated recruit, a 6'5" guard with a nice, all-around offensive arsenal that should see minutes immediately even if Kuksiks is back. Brandon Dunson and Corey Hawkins should also compete for minutes in the back court. The bigger issue will be up front. Ruslan Pateev is a 6'11" sophomore that didn’t get many minutes as a freshman. 7'2" Jordan Bachynski also joins the fray. The more interesting prospects, however, are Kyle Cain and Carrick Felix. Both are relatively small, but Felix is a dynamic athlete that originally committed to Duke and Cain, a bit bigger, will provide some toughness and strength inside. If Sendek somehow develops his front court, the Sun Devils have a shot at a tournament berth.
  7. USC: The Trojans likely wish that this season was the one they would face the postseason ban, not last season. But as we all know, USC AD Mike Garrett tried to save Trojan football by throwing Trojan hoops under the bus, which is a shame because USC was poised to surprise quite a few people. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some pieces on this roster. Alex Stephenson and Nikola Vucevic both return, giving the Trojans one of the better front lines in the Pac-10. And while the Trojans do lose Mike Gerrity, they bring in Fordham transfer Jio Fontan, who will become eligible in December. Beyond that, however, the question marks begin. How will Donte Smith, Marcus Simmons, and Evan Smith handle expanded roles this year? Will USC’s recruiting class -- headlined by four-star shooting guard Bryce Jones -- be able to contribute immediately? Because if the Trojans want to have a chance at being relevant this season, they will need more than just Stephenson, Vucevic, and Fontan.
  8. Oregon State: Once again, Craig Robinson is going to have a rough go of it in Corvallis. Gone is the talented Roeland Schaftenaar and both of the Tarver brothers, meaning that the Beaver’s Princeton-style offense will be based around the talents of senior guard Calvin Haynes. Joining Haynes in the back court will, in all-likelihood, be redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson, Robinson’s prized recruit in the class of 2009 that couldn’t get eligible, senior Lathan Wallace, and sophomore Jared Cunningham. Also don’t be surprised if Chicago native Ahmad Sparks, a 5'8" freshman point guard, sees time as well. Up front, Joe Burton, Omari Johnson, and Daniel Deane all return, but the real star in the front court could very well end up being Devon Collier. A product of Bob Hurley and the famed St. Anthony’s program, Collier was a pretty heavily recruited prospect. Freshmen Eric Moreland and Chris Brown should also compete for time. the Beavers will once again have a tough, competitive team, but they lack the talent to be a real threat in this league.
  9. Stanford: The Cardinal finished second to last in the Pac-10 last season, and they will head into this season without their star Landry Fields, who is now a New York Knick. They do return Jeremy Green, the only other player on the roster to average double figures. Green is a 6'4" guard known mostly for his ability as a spot-up shooter. Joining Green in the back court will be Jarrett Mann, a 6'3" junior that led the team in assists as well as turnovers. Jack Trotter and Andrew Zimmermann both return up front, but beyond that, Stanford’s rotation will essentially be made up of freshmen -- there are eight on the roster total, not including the injury-riddled Andy Brown. Dwight Powell is a five-star, 6'10" center, and Anthony Brown is a top 100 two guard that should contribute immediately. Johnny Dawkins is showing promise on the recruiting trail, but he still has a while to go until this Stanford team will be competitive.
  10. Oregon: Good luck recognizing the Ducks next season. Ernie Kent is gone, replaced by Dana Altman. Mac Court will soon be gone. Leading scorer TaJuan Porter is gone to graduation. Jamil Wilson, Matthew Humphrey, Drew Wiley and Josh Crittle all decided to transfer, and Malcolm Armstead very nearly did as well. Michael Dunigan left the program amidst a potential scandel to sign with a professional team in Israel. Oregon is in trouble this year. Armstead is their leading returning scorer and creator, but he is really the only threat they have. Joevan Catron returns after receiving a medical redshirt, while LeKendric Longmire, Jeremy Jacob, Teondre Williams, EJ Singler, and Garrett Sim round out the returning rotation. A run to the top half of the league would be an impressive feat for Altman.