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UCLA may endure another sub-par season

Washington is again the cream of the Pac-10 crop. That’s an easy call. The rest of the league? That’s a crapshoot.

Most preseason prognostications are slotting Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State in various orders of 2, 3 and 4, while Oregon - thanks to its massive player exodus - is usually dead last. Call it conventional wisdom for a league that may only get two NCAA tournament bids.

But Dan Hanner’s latest efficiency projections tell a slightly different story.

First off, it’s Oregon State, not Oregon, that could occupy the league’s cellar. The Beavers’ anemic offense may not be any better than their ragged defense.

USC could sneak into the top by virtue of the nasty defense emphasized by coach Kevin O’Neill. Sure, the Trojans lost four key players from last season’s surprisingly competitive squad, but Alex Stephenson and Nixola Vucecic are excellent defensive players. When you keep the score close as USC does, a few upsets happens.

The biggest surprise? UCLA. Despite adding talented prospects Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb, Hanner’s model projects the Bruins’ efficiency margin at merely 8.3, seventh in the conference, below Cal and Washington State. That’s not promising news for Ben Howland, who will have a toasty seat all season if they struggle again.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.